Wes Anderson’s Asteroid City – running for the Palme d’Or at the ongoing 76th Cannes Film Festival – is set in the mid-1950s in the middle of American desert. The place is also known as Asteroid City, because thousands of years ago a meteorite landed there. Or so everyone believes. Presently, the city is where a US Government observatory is located. It is also the place where teens assemble to gaze at the sky. Often parents come along with them. (Also read: Cannes 2023: Jude Law wore ‘smelly perfume’ to play King Henry VIII in Firebrand)
On one such session, when the children and their parents assemble, mushroom clouds appear on the horizon as if an atomic bomb had gone off. The American President decrees that none should leave the city nor enter it. It is a frightening lockdown in a movie that has an ensemble cast of Tom Hanks, Matt Dillon, Scarlett Johansson and others.
At at press conference which followed the screening, the stars turned up in their full strength. Johansson, who plays 1950s movie star Midge Campbell in the film, was full of praise for Anderson’s creation. He had a unique way of work, like in a theatre, in a communal way.“It is not the familiar process of being on a sound stage and going to your trailer and have all this downtime, which eats up the momentum. It feels very vibrant much like you are working in theatre,” she said.
Cast praises Anderson
Actor Jeffrey Wright praised Anderson’s incredible efficiency, “Every shot in his movies was carefully planned and storyboarded ahead of time, in little cartoons that Anderson produces, where the director voices all the characters himself”.
Actor Jason Schwartzman, who plays Augie Steinbeck, a recently widowed war photographer, felt “Anderson’s curiosity had been the driving force of his entire career….“I was 17 when we met [on 1998’s Rushmore] and he was the first person that wasn’t in my family that was over the age of 20 that actually asked me a question and cared what I said and was curious about what I was interested in. My feeling is that’s why we’re all here. Because [Wes] wants to know about all of us and he’s curious and he always sees things in us we do not see.”
Bryan Cranston, who essays a Playhouse 90-type television host in a black-and-white device within the movie, explained the complex story-within-a-story-within-a-story plot. “It’s a movie about a television show doing a story on a theatre. And I think it’s Wes’ love letter to performance art. He’s wrapped his arms around the three major mediums we are involved in.”
“We all live in Anderson’s world. It feels like he is a conductor of an orchestra. And all of us are players of our particular instrument,” said Cranston. “We hyper focus on our instrument and just present it without really knowing exactly how it’s all going to piece together. And he conducts — a little less Bryan, a little more Scarlett at this moment, or whatever, making the adjustments as he goes. There’s a part [in Asteroid City] where Augie goes in and talks to the director and says ‘I just don’t think I understand the play.’ And the director says ‘Well, you don’t have to, just keep telling the story.’ And I think that, in a nutshell, is what the film meant to me. We go through life. We don’t know exactly what’s going to happen, how long our lives will be, who will be in our lives, how it’ll all play out. We just have to keep telling the story. Just keep moving forward, and and be a storyteller.”
The Festival ends May 27.