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Wes Anderson's fantastical mise-en-scène of Asteroid City

Wes Anderson's fantastical mise-en-scène of Asteroid City

Posted June. 20, 2023 08:03,   

Updated June. 20, 2023 08:03


Imbued with Wes Anderson's unique signature of fantastical mise-en-scène, his much-anticipated film, 'Asteroid City,' is slated to debut on the 28th. This latest addition to Anderson's remarkable oeuvre, including such masterpieces as 'The Grand Budapest Hotel' (2014) and 'Moonrise Kingdom' (2012), dazzles with its vibrant scenes. It has already earned a prestigious invitation as a competition entry at last month's 76th Cannes Film Festival.

Set in the heart of 1955 America, 'Asteroid City' is a fictional small town bearing the mark of a meteorite impact. This peculiar event is annually commemorated with an 'Asteroid Day,' a town festivity inviting budding young stars in the field of astronomy.

Our protagonist, military photojournalist Augie Steenbeck (portrayed by Jason Schwartzman), ventures to Asteroid City accompanied by his son Woodrow (played by Jake Ryan). Here, they encounter the renowned actress Midge Campbell (Scarlett Johansson), attending the 'Asteroid Day' event with her daughter. However, an unforeseen incident soon throws the town into disarray, with event-goers finding themselves under unexpected quarantine.

Exemplifying the distinctive style of Anderson's oeuvre, the film's mise-en-scène is breathtaking in its beauty. An expanse of the loess-colored desert meets a sky-tinged mint, contrasting with the characters' vivid attire in a strikingly red-and-yellow palette. The composition is meticulously orderly and symmetrical, almost as if crafted by a compulsive perfectionist.

The narrative, theatrically partitioned into acts and scenes, weaves together various tales of Asteroid City, interspersed with black-and-white appearances by directors and actors. In a meta-commentary twist, outside Asteroid City's realm, Steenbeck is portrayed as actor Jones Hall, while Campbell becomes actress Mercedes Ford. This layered narrative blurs the boundaries between reality and theater, leaving audiences to ponder the authenticity of each tale. The dense and theatrical dialogue adds to the intriguing complexity, making it a film that requires thoughtful consideration to fully appreciate.

Despite the complexity, or perhaps because of it, 'Asteroid City' has garnered rave reviews. Its screening at this year's Cannes Film Festival elicited a standing ovation that endured for six minutes. Characteristic of Anderson's works, it's a film that encapsulates quirky charm and striking beauty in equal measures.

Ji-Sun Choi aurinko@donga.com