The French Dispatch

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Over the last quarter-century, Wes Anderson has built up an impressive oeuvre. Ever since he debuted with Bottle Rocket in 1996, he has consistently released a new feature on average every 2 to 3 years. That’s downright prolific for an auteur. From the superlative (Rushmore, Moonrise Kingdom) to the merely tolerable (The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou) — if you’re familiar with the director’s aesthetic, you know his style is instantly recognizable. Fastidiously produced productions featuring a large cast with a lot of care that goes into the construction. Each piece is a thoughtfully manicured diorama of minutiae. Every shot is the manifestation of perfectly placed objects in a dollhouse. His movies can be a little difficult to embrace for the unconverted. They’re so twee. This one is no different. Yet I am a devotee and so I relish them all. The French Dispatch doesn’t rank among his very best, but I did admire the effort that went into making it.

A Wes Anderson release is nothing if not precious. At times the degree of whimsy almost verges into a parody of his technique. It’s set in a fictional French town called “Ennui-sur-Blasé.” Both “ennui” and “blasé” of course are fancy words for similar things. The saga begins as a tale about a newspaper staffed by a team of American expatriates living in France. The paper itself is loosely based on the New Yorker magazine. As it begins, it’s about the journalists writing articles. The account frames this in a vignette about “cycling reporter” Herbsaint Sazerac (Owen Wilson). From there, he recounts an anthology of three columns each told by separate individuals: art impresario J.K.L. Berensen (Tilda Swinton), journalist Lucinda Krementz (Frances McDormand), and food writer Roebuck Wright (Jeffrey Wright).

The chronicle grows even more convoluted. For you see, those three stores then become a framing device for introducing the proper stories. The first is about an art dealer (Adrien Brody) and a jailed painter (Benicio Del Toro) who uses a female prison guard (Léa Seydoux ) as a model. The second concerns a group of young activists (Timothée Chalamet, Lyna Khoudri), and the third is about a celebrated chef (Stephen Park) who solves a kidnapping plot for a police commissioner (Mathieu Amalric). The narrative configuration becomes something of a Russian Matryoshka doll — those wooden figurines of decreasing size placed inside one another.

The French Dispatch has a romantic affection for Europe, the past, literary pursuits, and quirky details. Like all of the director’s compositions, the piece is filled with meticulous production design amusing sight gags, and dry dialogue. It’s inspired by actual people and events. If you get the references you’ll adore it more. There are so many performances and every actor has a scant amount of screen time. Tilda Swinton sporting big hair and a sophisticated accent while addressing a crowd in an auditorium was a favorite.

Wes Anderson has a fondness for historical happenings and personalities. He weaves that enthusiasm into the fabric of the film. As we delve deeper, the story is influenced by a multitude of real-life people. Those with a knowledge of luminaries like Joseph Mitchell, Rosamund Bernier, Lord Duveen, and James Baldwin will be at an advantage, It isn’t necessary to share his artistic passions. However, it will certainly give you a greater appreciation for Anderson’s indulgences. Other than Baldwin, I was unaware of these tangible connections. I still enjoyed the whimsical nature, but I have always been a fan. File this under the heading “Your mileage may vary.”


7 Responses to “The French Dispatch”

  1. Eric Robert Wilkinson Says:

    I think this is his best since the life aquatic…

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I always look forward to these films. Always quirky, always good to see the same cast of characters, including new ones. I will say, lately, Tilda Swinton is the one I enjoy the most. She nails every character. I love that. Not as good a film as some of the others, but still had fun. 3 1/2 ⭐️

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I haven’t seen the movie yet, but I’d probably file the whole thing under, “ok, we get it.” That being said, I’m sure my girlfriend will force me to see it, so here’s to hoping it’s palatable.

    Liked by 1 person

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