Happy Anniversary, CQ and The Darjeeling Limited

Before you see Moonrise Kingdom this weekend, check out these two films from the movie's co-writers, Roman Coppola and Wes Anderson.

CQ (2002)
Anniversary: Tin
Although it premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in 2001, general audiences didn't get a chance to see Roman Coppola's first feature film as a director until the following year, so we're awarding it Tin Anniversary status. As it turned out, not that many people saw CQ when it did actually go into general release; the film grossed under $500,000 during its theatrical run. In the decade since then though, it's acquired something of a cult following, particularly amongst hardcore cineastes who appreciate its loving recreation of kooky '60s French cinema (particularly the work of Roger Vadim) as well as its movie mad hero, an American film editor named Paul (Jeremy Davies).

The year is 1969 and, fully in the thrall of European movies, Paul has ditched his native land to find gainful employment at the Paris-based office of flamboyant Italian film producer, Enzo (screen legend Giancarlo Giannini, playing a version of flamboyant real-life Italian film producer, Dino De Laurentiis). His current assignment is to assemble a sexy sci-fi thriller named Codename: Dragonfly, starring the stunning screen newcomer Valentine (Angela Lindvall) and directed by garrulous "visionary" Andrezej (Gerard Depardieu), into a comprehensible, marketable film and not the collection of half-baked ideas and incomprehensible plot points that it is right now. Refusing to change a frame of his masterpiece -- in which knockout secret agent Dragonfly battles the forces of dangerous counter-revolutionary Mr. E (Billy Zane, at his most Billy Zane-est) -- Andrezej is summarily fired from the film, and the director's chair initially passes to brash upstart Felix DeMarco (Jason Schwartzman) before Paul inherits it and comes up with the thing it needs most: an ending. In the meantime, he's working on his own personal passion project in his humble garret, filming his own life -- and the life of his frustrated girlfriend, Marlene (Elodie Bouchez) -- in a desperate attempt to capture something "real" to balance out the elaborate fantasies he edits day in and day out at Enzo's office. The longer he pulls double duty though, the more fact and fiction start to blur together in his mind, to the point where he's not always sure whether he's making Codename: Dragonfly or starring in it.

Roman Coppola, of course, is the son of Francis Ford Coppola and the brother of Sofia Coppola (who makes a brief cameo appearance here as Enzo's girlfriend), whose own films also display a certain fascination with movies and the people who make them. (It's no accident that the main characters in both Lost in Translation and Somewhere are both movie stars.) Where she's often far more interested in the lifestyle that accompanies being a player in this particular industry -- something that she's too often unfairly criticized for -- based on CQ at least, her brother's imagination is inflamed by the act of filmmaking itself and how it functions as a metaphor for self-discovery. CQ's most obvious antecedent is Fellini's immortal meta-movie and while you could describe it as -lite, that's doing a disservice to the film's many charms... even if it is an accurate summation of its overall ambition. The Codename: Dragonfly sequences alone make CQ a must-see for any serious film buff, as Coppola both pays homage to and expertly sends up vintage '60s Eurotrash productions like Barbarella. And while the director was only four years old in 1969, the movie's depiction of that heady time rings true, probably because his father was active then and rubbed shoulders with many of the personalities who are lightly fictionalized here. (It's not at all hard to see why he and his Moonrise Kingdom collaborator Wes Anderson get along so well; like Anderson, Coppola pays meticulous attention to production design, filling the frame with era-appropriate props and costumes.)

Where CQ falters is in its attempts to delve more deeply into Paul's private life; his scenes with Marlene largely fall flat (she comes off as too much of a shrew, while he's frustratingly passive) and a brief encounter with his distracted, distant father (Dean Stockwell) tiptoes around more complex father/son dynamics he and Anderson would explore later in their first script together, The Darjeeling Limited. The film's final moments are also guilty of letting Paul off the hook somewhat for his self-absorption, awarding him cinematic success and allowing him to trade up in the girlfriend department, neither of which -- it could be argued -- he entirely deserves. Nevertheless, CQ is a promising debut, so much so that it's surprising Coppola waited so long to make a follow-up. After a ten-year break from directing, he only just completed work on A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III (starring Bill Murray, Mary Elizabeth Winstead and... Charlie Sheen?), which likely won't be released until sometime next year. Frankly, the thought of Murray and Sheen sharing the screen together is weirder than anything in CQ.

The Darjeeling Limited (2007)
Anniversary: Wood
How is it possible that Wes Anderson's last live-action feature went so underrated at the time of its release five years ago? Seen again today, it's a terrific achievement -- a robust, focused comeback after the problematic misfire The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and a deeply felt story from a director who is often dismissed as being too arch and hip for the room. It's also one of the few films about an American's spiritual journey abroad that doesn't come across as pandering or insulting to the country (in this case, India) it takes place in. While it may not be Anderson's best movie (that title is a close race between Rushmore and Fantastic Mr. Fox), it certainly belongs in his top tier.

In a clever opening misdirect, Anderson plops the viewer down in a cab carrying a harried American businessman (Anderson regular Bill Murray) that's speeding through the streets of a bustling Indian city en route the train station. Rushing onto the platform, he spies his train pulling out of the station and chases after it. He's soon lapped by another man and one of the actual stars of the film, Peter Whitman (Adrien Brody). Tossing his suitcases on board -- a bit of business that will become a recurring gag throughout the movie, not to mention a perhaps too-on-the-nose visual cue about how the characters are carrying around too much proverbial baggage -- he climbs on and finds his fellow travelers, his brothers Jack (Jason Schwartzman) and Francis (Owen Wilson). They've come to India to repair their relationship and their own lives after the death of their father the previous year. Since then, they've all suffered personal setbacks, from relationship problems (Peter's wife is pregnant, but he's uncertain about fatherhood; Jack is getting over an ex-girlfriend, a relationship outlined in the movie's "prequel" Hotel Chevalier) to near-death experiences (Francis claims to have been in an accident that, in fact, turns out to have been a suicide attempt and his head is still swathed in bandages). This train trip will take them across India until they find some sort of emotional release or their missing mother (Anjelica Huston)... whichever comes first.

With the exception of his debut film Bottle Rocket, virtually all of Anderson's movies have hinged on the relationship between father figures and the children (both young and old) that look up to them -- think Bill Murray and Jason Scwhartzman in Rushmore, Gene Hackman and his three kids in The Royal Tenenbaums and Murray and Owen Wilson in The Life Aquatic. The Darjeeling Limited continues this theme, but removes the father from the proceedings entirely, so instead of wrestling with a physical presence, the children are wrestling with his memory. It may sound like a small change, but it's a deeply significant one, allowing Anderson to explore the concepts of grief and loss in a way he really hadn't prior to this film. The other new ingredient, obviously, is India itself; the rugged natural beauty of the landscape and swirling chaos of the towns the characters pass through force Anderson out of his art-directed comfort zone. While the interior sequences aboard the train are carefully stage-managed in the classic Anderson style, when the characters move outside, there's a realism that breaks through the cultivated artificiality that occasionally threatens to suffocate his work. For lack of a better word, The Darjeeling Limited is messy at times, but it's a welcome messiness -- the kind that can occur when an artist expands his or her canvas without sacrificing their signature style.

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