Wes Anderson’s ‘Moonrise Kingdom’ earns raves at Cannes

The 65th annual Cannes Film Festival opened on Wednesday with the premiere of Wes Anderson's latest work "Moonrise Kingdom," and it received raves from the notoriously fickle, and brutal, Cannes audience. Considering that Anderson is one of the most distinctive filmmakers out there, it's surprising that "Moonrise" is his first movie to screen at Cannes.

Set on the remote New Penzance Island in 1965, the movie centers on a pair of star-crossed pre-teens — Sam (Jared Gilman), a precocious bespectacled boy scout in a coonskin cap, and Suzy (Kara Hayward), a troubled teen who favors saddle shoes and raccoon-like mascara. The two run away into the island's wild hinterland, setting the movie's other characters — Suzy's parents (Frances McDormand and Bill Murray), along with Scout Master Ward (Edward Norton) and the entire Khaki scout troupe 55 — into motion.

[Photos: Stars stun at Cannes' 'Moonrise Kingdom' premiere]

"I got the idea from having two 12 year olds fall passionately in love," Wes Anderson told me the morning after the premiere during the junket for the movie. (Video of the event will follow soon.) Though the interview took place on the beach populated by more than a few leathery topless sunbathers, he wore a beige corduroy suit. "I was also interested in creating a story set on an island."

From frame one, you can tell that "Moonrise Kingdom" is a Wes Anderson movie. The film is filled with his trademark self-conscious set design, odd framing, and off-kilter juxtapositions. Yet whereas some of his previous movies have felt like a self-parodying collection of aesthetic ticks — hello, "Darjeeling Limited" — this film, with its story of young love, really lands a strong emotional punch. And, if memories of sixth grade include Tang, battery-powered record players, and camp crafts, then this film will also give you a sharp twinge of nostalgia.

Following the film's enthusiastic reception, the stars, producers, and, yes, the press, attended the opening night gala. Tilda Swinton — who has a small part as the film's villain, known only as Social Services, who wears a Cruella-De-Vil-style cape — was there in all her Bowie-sque asexual fabulousness, as was Bill Murray, who always seems to be tuning on a frequency of reality far more interesting than my own. Jury member Ewan MacGregor was also there, along with director Brett Ratner, for some reason, and his shapely companion who towered over the filmmaker. The rest of the crowd consisted of your standard-issue Hollywood types, plus folks who looked like extras from "Casino Royale." The mood among the cast was justifiably exuberant. There was even talk about Anderson's movie taking the festival's top prize, the Palme d'Or.

[Photos: 'Moonrise Kingdom' movie stills]

Of course, the movie has some very stiff competition in the weeks ahead, including David Cronenberg's return to stream-of-consciousness weirdness with "Cosmopolis," feel-bad auteur Michael Haneke's "Love," and Lee Daniel's "The Paperboy." On the other hand, this strange, yet wholesome tale might just be what the jury picks.

We'll know May 27 when the festival wraps up. In the meantime, "Moonrise Kingdom" opens in Los Angeles and New York on May 25 and then spreads to screens across the country.

Watch 'Moonrise Kingdom' clips:

Clip: New Penzance Clip: Were You Followed? Clip: A Loaded Question Clip: Snappy Attitude