Wes Anderson’s films can only be made by Wes Anderson and in this obviousness is contained his singularity and the philias and phobias caused by one of the few contemporary filmmakers who are in themselves a genre and an aesthetic. Asteroid City, The new film by this Texan fond of corduroy suits and European life is Anderson’s return to his roots through the imaginary of the Western desert and its alien mirages.
In her previous film, the sprawling and exhausting The French Chronicle (2020), a “foreign” character said: “We are looking for something that we lack, we lack something that we leave behind”. Looking in the rearview mirror, Anderson has found that “something” in a theater of retro-futuristic curiosities in which his self-absorbed state of mind travels at the speed of Coyote and Road Runner, mythical characters from the looney tunes (“Beep, beep!”), but guided by the existential melancholy of the Charlie Brown cartoons, one of his eternal references.
Asteroid City traverses a certain memory of the American innocence of the fifties through two places that seem to contain the idealized idea of a country that the director of the unforgettable Moonrise Kingdom (2012) observes from his perplexed distance. At the heart of the film is the desert setting, it could be Nevada, with its UFO legends and echoes of Western folklore. On the other side is the East, concentrated in the wings of the New York Broadway theater where that desert is represented, a space that at times evokes the atmosphere of the mythical Actors Studio. Saturated color is reserved for the work that takes place in nowhere and black and white for the stage where this function of know-it-all children, lonely parents and clueless aliens takes shape. They are two antagonistic scenarios united by a television narrator who pulls the strings of all the puppets.
An indefatigable parade of stars runs along these three tracks, most of them regular accomplices in the cinema of this director who loves dollhouses and planes made with drawing pens. A cast that knows well a style of, pardon the oxymoron, telegraphic verbiage on the back of sets that absorb everything. Once again, the filmmaker uses a firmament of big names as a camouflage for his cryptic ideas and emotions.
After traveling the world —from Eastern Europe to The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) to Japan in isle of dogs (2018)―, Asteroid City has a lot coming home. Anderson, a fetishist and perfectionist creator, searches for the fantasy of his land from an imagined setting in the Madrid plateau town of Chinchón and perhaps for this reason this wasteland of nuclear experiments, family aesthetics tupperware and adolescents cum laude contains an intimate mystery.
Without the loneliness of child prodigies, the essence of Wes Anderson’s cinema would not exist, and to this desert tinged with turquoise blue, corals, browns, and yellows, a series of families attracted by a school convention for future astronomers arrive.
At 54 years old and with eleven films behind him, Anderson’s intricate love of the game of Russian dolls flows into Asteroid City. A set within another set and another until configuring a mosaic of mini-stories, memorabilia, songs and symbols so closed in on themselves that at times the viewer runs the risk of staying on the other side of the mirror. But the central nucleus of the film, that emptiness in the emptiness of a desert that is not even what it is, is of such a strange, fertile and powerful imagination that one can only be abducted by its alien beauty.
Address: Wes Anderson.
Performers: Jason Schwartzman, Scarlett Johansson, Tom Hanks, Bryan Cranston, Adrien Brody, Tilda Swinton, Margot Robbie, Matt Dillon, Edward Norton.
Gender: comedy. United States, 2023.
Duration: 104 minutes.
Premiere: June 16.
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‘Asteroid City’: the best Wes Anderson returns to his alien roots with a stop in Chinchón