Wes Anderson's The Darjeeling Limited will close the London Film Festival tonight, with a sold-out screening in the West End.
The film follows three brothers - reunited for the first time in the year since their father's death - who take a train journey across northern India, in the hope of renewing their relationships, finding someone they lost and, in true gap-year style, finding themselves. Suchandrika Chakrabarti, who has been covering this year's festival, takes an advance look.
Here's the trailer:
You can tell a Wes Anderson film a mile off - they all share a lot of the same visual qualities, and use favoured actors such as Owen Wilson, Anjelica Huston, Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman in heavy rotation. This gives the viewer the feeling that the same characters are walking through one of his films to the next, only taking time to change his name and perhaps a little bit of backstory.
Really, though, you go to see The Darjeeling Limited for the music, the banter, the dysfunctional families and that slow-motion walking shot he's so fond of. Happily though, this film is not quite so dismissive of its setting and the people who live there, unlike, arguably, parts of Lost in Translation.
The Darjeeling Limited is screened as a double bill with short The Hotel Chevalier, which is famous for Natalie Portman's nudity. It also acts as a prologue to the feature, giving us some of the background to Jack (Jason Schwartzman), his flight from America and his bizarre relationship with his seemingly long-suffering girlfriend.
Look carefully at the bright yellow robe in the picture; that robe will pop up in Darjeeling, and yellow is the keynote colour of both films, popping up in nearly every scene. Anderson's sets are always filled with bright primary colours, and each actor often spends the entire film in one costume, rather than changing outfits each day like a normal person. Think of The Royal Tenenbaums or The Life Aquatic. This helps add to the storybook/fairytale quality of his films, and each character is almost like something out of a cartoon in their sameness in every scene. The most obvious example is the opening of The Royal Tenenbaums, where pages rustle open across the screen.
The effect is to make his films look really cute. It's a good move when added to his taste in guitar-heavy, warbly music (Bowie in The Life Aquatic, getting The Kinks to perform nearly everything here). Having India as a backdrop gives Anderson full rein to go big on colour, and to make use of music from Indian films such as Satyajit Ray's Pather Panchali and the Merchant-Ivory Shakespeare-Wallah. This all makes it hard not to love his characters a little bit; even that mean old Royal Tenenbaum. The saddest moments are rendered feel-good by the burst of happy music in the next scene.
An example of a liberally-used track from the film - The Kinks, This Time Tomorrow:
So there are these three brothers then, and they're off on a trip across India on a lovely colourful train with their Marc Jacobs for Louis Vuitton leather luggage (impractical but so cute!). Despite the fact that Owen Wilson (Francis, the oldest), Adrien Brody (Peter, the middle one) and Jason Schwartzman (Jack, the baby) are ridiculously unbelievable as brothers, they have a nice, squabbling chemistry. Francis is overbearing, ordering for the others in the restaurant and hiding passports; Peter alternates between hiding behind his [late father's] sunglasses and picking fights with Francis; and Jack begs to "not be included." This leads to that great line from the trailer: "I love you too, but I'm gonna mace you in the face!"
Long story short, they get thrown off the train, talk about their dysfunctional family and relationships, there is a difficult section involving the funeral of an Indian boy that really doesn't sit well with the rest of the film, especially as it is shown as being more about the brothers than about anyone connected to the boy. Lots of tight facial close-ups (the characters brush their teeth and shave into the mirror/camera in both Chevalier and Darjeeling, eerily staring right at the audience as they do so). Lots of the camera acting like the audience's head, looking up, down, sideways many times in a shot. Lots of slow-motion walking shots, making the characters seem grander, larger than life. Bill Murray's in there at one point; so is Anjelica Huston. Some lovely music. Owen Wilson's character comes out with something very close to the bone. The three of them end up smiling on the train home. Fin.
The Darjeeling Limited has its UK premiere tonight at the London Film Festival's Closing Gala. For more information, click here.