Cannes 2023: “Asteroid City”, Wes Anderson’s Russian dolls
Asteroid City **
by Wes Anderson
American film, 1 h 44
In theaters June 21
In Cannes, the rise of the steps ofAsteroid City made photographers dizzy with its five-star cast. But Wes Anderson’s latest film also made festival-goers dizzy, as it multiplies the narrative layers, enshrining them like Russian dolls.
This 11th feature from the director of The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) and The French Dispatch (2021) begins, in the 1950s, on a television set. Filmed in black and white, a deep-voiced narrator (Bryan Cranston) recounts the construction of a play entitled Asteroid City, signed by a playwright with false airs of Tennessee Williams (Edward Norton). Then begins, in saturated colors and cardboard decorations, the heart of the film, which unfolds the plot of this dramatic comedy.
In 1955, in Asteroid City, a lost town in a desert region of the southwestern United States, whose only attraction is the visit to the crater left by a meteorite, a scientific meeting takes place. Five little geniuses come to present their inventions intended to be used in space by a delegation of astronomers working in the nearby observatory and soldiers very busy with the nuclear tests undertaken a few leagues away…
Feeling of deja vu
Among the parents of these Space Cadets, a war photographer (Jason Schwartzman), recently widowed, wonders if he will not entrust his four children to their grandfather (Tom Hanks), an old handsome resident In the region. But his meeting with a cerebral and glamorous movie star (Scarlett Johansson, who plays admirably with her image as a sex symbol) and especially the unexpected and tasty visit of an extraterrestrial push him to look at things differently.
Despite a few lengths and a sense of deja vu (increasingly strong in Wes Anderson’s films), Asteroid City can be savored with a certain pleasure, as the filmmaker enjoys multiplying sketches in reverse shot of the main plot. We thus meet philosophical cowboys, an overworked teacher and an enterprising motel manager (Steve Carell) whose automatic machines sell everything, even acres of land…
Faced with lost adults, children are rational and responsible, assuming their ill-being more transparently. “I tell myself that I would be more comfortable in space than here”, confides the daughter of the famous actress, who plays the roles of crazy prostitutes or suicidal women. The actress rehearses her roles with her new lover, each being posted at the window of her bungalow. The opportunity for Wes Anderson to offer his actors the opportunity to look straight into the camera lens.
Regularly breaking the fourth wall, this imaginary separation theorized by Diderot between the stage and the spectators, the American filmmaker wants to blur the border between reality and fiction. Life is too painful, Wes Anderson tells us, you have to sublimate it by staging, to try to understand it and to sublimate mourning, death, human stupidity. “You can’t wake up if you don’t fall asleep” (“You can’t wake up if you don’t fall asleep”), sings Jarvis Cocker in a deep voice, as if to invite the public to dream more.
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