It is by no means a criticism to say that Moonrise Kingdom begins with an opening sequence that could not be more effectively put together as a parody of a Wes Anderson movie. It's quite literally all there: a needlepoint depiction of one of the film's key locations, a sideways tracking shot (then a 90-degree turn, then another), a bunch of glum kids in matching outfits, a stylised, pastel-hued set that makes Jean-Luc Godard's Tout Va Bien look gritty, a children's classic music ten-inch playing on a bakelite portable, and credits so exquisite you could hang each one of them on the wall.
It's a bold enough move for any film, but for a film opening the 65th Cannes film festival this is positively daring. In previous years the curtain-raiser has often simply been an entertainment, notably last year's Midnight In Paris, which followed the previous year's Up. It's been a long time since the festival began with such a wilfully arch and deliberate auteur movie, however, and though it is wonderful and moving in many ways, Moonrise Kingdom is sure to be divisive on the Croisette. Aspects of the film that may seem innocent elsewhere suddenly seem very loaded, notably the appearance of a Françoise Hardy record as the young heroine's prized possession and a book jacket that looks suspiciously like one for Françoise Sagan's proto-hipster novel Bonjour Tristesse.
Whether the French are flattered or offended by such honed Francophilia has yet to be determined, but it's odds-on that Anderson will be making a few enemies here as well as friends with his latest. Personally, I really, really liked it; as with Fantastic Mr Fox there is an unexpected warmth and humanity here, in a film that actually seems more like stop-motion animation than its predecessor. And although all the performances are mannered and sometimes doll-like, there is a fairy tale charm about Moonrise Kingdom that could even earmark it as one of his best.
Tellingly, it grasps the nettle that Anderson has avoided for so long. There's no nostalgia here, this is the the golden age. To clarify that, in many of Anderson's movies there is an absence, or a sense of great things gone, like the glory years that Steve Zissou enjoyed before the jaguar shark ate his partner, or the great novel that Owen Wilson's Eli wrote in The Royal Tenenbaums, or the many genius things that Gwyneth Paltrow's Margot did as a child prodigy before the weight of adult life finally got the better of her. Nothing illustrates this better than The Darjeeling Ltd, which was practically a hole with a story round it, so much was left to the imagination.
Moonrise Kingdom, however, has a story and a big heart. If I was a betting man I would put money on Anderson having seen the 1971 British movie Melody – co-written by Alan Parker, of all people – a somewhat twee but very affecting comedy about two children (including Oliver!'s Mark Lester) who elope to get married. This pre-teen love story is the film's driving force, with the young Sam (Jared Gilman) and Suzy (Kara Hayman) leaving home to spend their lives together. Max is a Khaki Scout, and his sudden exit from the camp – which he leaves with a very funny nod to The Shawshank Redemption – is what precipitates the drama. Sam wants to follow an old Indian trail to the coast, Suzy just wants to live out her orphan fantasies and leave her controlling, ordered family behind. Together they spark a manhunt that's as funny it is moving, with Sam's fellow scouts packing clubs and knives (“When we find him, I'm not gonna be the one that forgot to bring a weapon!”) and the adults seeing something of their old selves in these fugitives-cum-runaways.
The beginning is so precise that it seems the film will have trouble bearing up, but, surprisingly, it never flags. The two leads are wonderful, Gilman especially, and the adults play potentially one-note parts with just the right lightness and subtlety (Edward Norton is a revelation as the forlorn Scout Master Ward). The script, however, co-written once again with Roman Coppola, is the key here, and though the film actually has a narrator (in the form of the tremendous Bob Balaban, perhaps channelling Fantastic Mr Fox's Badger), the author of the piece is really Suzy, whose teen-lit books reflect her own emotional journey and keeps her fellow travellers rapt. It may seem too much at times – does Sam really need to be smoking a briar pipe? – but the overload strangely works. It won't satisfy everyone as the film to get the festival off to a flying jump, but it does sound a starting pistol of sorts. The question to be asked is how many more of this year's auteurs will go so far in acknowledging their repertoire – and who else will pull it off so stylishly?