Moonrise Kingdom director Wes Anderson. Photo by Eugene Hernandez.

About a week before the announcement of the lineup for the 2012 Cannes Film Festival, a friend told me that there was a pronounced concern inside the festival's Paris offices. Planners were facing intense expectations in the wake of the success of films from last year's event. Three movies from Cannes 2011—Midnight in Paris, The Tree of Life and The Artist—were among the nine films nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars. The Artist, a late addition to last year's Cannes competition, eventually captured cinema's top prize, a rare achievement for a film from this festival.

“They are worried that they can't meet those expectations,” the friend told me last month.

It is under such pressure that the 65th Festival de Cannes got underway today, ushered in this morning with a screening of Wes Anderson's Moonrise Kingdom, a tender film about young love. Anderson's latest, a Super 16 summer camp tale, will debut at tonight's first red carpet gala of the twelve day event here in the South of France.

“The year is 1965,” states Bob Balaban, a snappily dressed narrator who introduces viewers to the small New England island of New Penzance, where the film is set.

“It is about love,” Bruce Willis said simply this morning at a press conference. “Young love, it's on fire and nobody knows how to get the fire out. It's about how everybody needs to be loved in some way.”

This morning, Wes Anderson told journalists that his film is meant to provoke in his audience their own memories of falling in love as kids, but he added that Moonrise Kingdom is not a snapshot of his own life.

“It is a memory of what I remember wanting to have happen,” Wes Anderson clarified. “None of it ever occurred.”

Left to right: Jurors Alexander Payne, Andrea Arnold, Raoul Peck, Emmanuelle Devos, Nanni Moretti, Diane Kruger, Jean Paul Gaultier, Hiam Abbas and Ewan MacGregor today. Photo by Eugene Hernandez.

It's late summer as the film begins and our narrator tells us that, unbeknownst to the families and boy scouts living on New Penzance Island, a disastrous storm is heading their way in just days.

When the two young stars fall in love for the first time, the looming sense of what's coming hangs over their burgeoning passion just as the society they are maturing into is about to see its own cultural shifts.

“These characters are 12,” filmmaker Wes Anderson explained, “When they are 18 they are going to be in a very different kind of America, I think. After so much stasis, there was change.”

Whether Moonrise Kingdom can achieve the same level of success as last year's Cannes competition, of course, remains to be seen. No doubt Oscar watchers will start talking about its chances soon, if they haven't already.

A small cadre of artists will decide which films win prizes here in Cannes. Jury president Nanni Moretti was joined by filmmakers Alexander Payne, Andrea Arnold and Raoul Peck at a press conference this afternoon at the festival alongside actors Hiam Abbas, Emmanuelle Devos, Diane Kruger and Ewan MacGregor, as well as designer Jean Paul Gaultier. They were asked about Cannes' interplay with Oscar season.

“Do awards even matter?” one journalist probed.

“How can you say this is best?” recent Oscar winner Alexander Payne wondered. “For some reason we do it and you have to approach it with an attitude of fun. It’s a little ridiculous to say there's a best.”

“The selection of the entire slate of films is the important part of what the festival is,” Payne concluded. “More than the prizes.”

Eugene Hernandez is the Director of Digital Strategy at the Film Society of Lincoln Center (@filmlinc) and a founder of indieWIRE. Follow him on Twitter at @eug.

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