Wes Anderson’s star-studded, multi-chaptered tribute to The New York is his most impressionistic work to date.
Anyone who is familiar with LWLies knows we’re pretty big fans of Wes Anderson; his tenth feature seemed tailor-made to appeal to movie lovers who also appreciate the art of print journalism. Concerning the French foreign bureau of the fictional Liberty Kansas Evening Sun newspaper, the film follows three separate storylines gathered together within the The French Dispatch’s final issue, to be released upon the passing of its founder and editor-in-chief, Arthur Howitzer Jr (Bill Murray).
These dispatches take the form of a travelogue filed by cycling enthusiast Herbsaint Saverac (Owen Wilson), an arts report from JKL Berensen (Tilda Swinton), a political investigation by Lucinda Krementz (Frances McDormand) and a food column written by Roebuck Wright (Jeffrey Wright), bookended by a prologue and epilogue concerning the paper’s past and present.
These stories are depicted in typical Anderson fashion: Berensen delivers a symposium about the incarcerated artist Moses Rosenthaler (Benicio del Toro) and his muse, prison guard Simone (Lea Seydoux); Krementz reports on student revolutionaries Zeffirelli B (Timothee Chalamet) and Juliette (Lyna Khoudri). Perhaps the most moving of the segments is the final one, in which Wright’s gay reporter reflects on an encounter with the famed police chef Lt Nescafier (Stephen Park).
Anderson has pointed to The New Yorker as his grand inspiration, and this shines through with plenty of references without ever feeling too insular or alienating to those with less affinity for the publication. The film manages to portray the strident spirit of the magazine, with the kind of smart, intricate dialogue we’ve come to expect from Anderson interlaced with memorable plotlines that wouldn’t feel out of place in a highbrow periodical. A cartoon sequence is a particularly lovely touch, reminiscent of The New Yorker’s elaborate illustrated covers.
The French Dispatch is Anderson’s most impressionistic and unusual film in quite some time, not to mention his most ambitious since his stop-motion adaptation of Fantastic Mr Fox. The sprawling cast list might have once looked intimidating, but they flit in and out adding colour and life to the headlines. So even though many A-listers only get a line or two, Wes fans will delight in picking out faces they recognise.
This is also arguably the director’s his most detail-oriented work; the runtime flies by as we become immersed in the meticulously constructed world. Anderson isn’t just a filmmaker, he’s an architect, crafting intricate worlds for viewers to get lost in. This one requires a little concentration to follow all the dialogue and storylines, but it’s a pleasure to be in the hands of a storyteller who cares so deeply about every aspect of his work.
The French Dispatch might feel less accessible to some – familiarity with Anderson’s quirks (the fast-paced verbosity of his dialogue, on-screen title after on-screen title), not to mention prior knowledge of the source material, will go a long way to making sense of things. But still, this is the Wes we know and love, with his artful considerations of love, liberty and what lives on after we die. Like any print classic, it begs to be leafed over again and again so that new details emerge; there’s even a dedication list of writers at the end, which might inspire an uptake in archive issues of The New Yorker.
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Published 13 Jul 2021
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