FILM REVIEW - The French Dispatch
By The Meticulous Marauder
Wes Anderson. The visionary, unique, inspiring, extraordinaire. That’s a lot of praise for a director from me, especially given I’ve only watched a couple of his movies so it may not even be considered a valid opinion, but it is mine so we’ll work with it. That being said I’ll do my best to maintain journalistic neutrality, for the sake of those who want to know if the movie is actually worth watching. Now if you were to ask me why I made the trip to central London to watch this movie on the big screen, I’d be of a mind to give you two answers depending on how comfortable I felt around you. One - After the few projects I have seen off Anderson’s work, I’m interested in how he pays homage to the dying art of printed journalism. Or Two - Timothée Chalamet is in it. No doubt, I was interested in the movie, but would I have spent £10 on the cinema ticket if Chalamet hadn’t been it? I guess we’ll never know.
The story concerns the European outpost (‘The French Dispatch’) of a fictional Kansas based newspaper, and its editor, Arthur Howitzer Jr. (Bill Murray). We very quickly delve into the four smaller stories narrated by various writers of the French Dispatch. Beginning with a tour of the city Ennui-Sur-Blasé, we’re led by the cycling reporter Herbert Sazerac (Owen Wilson). Sazerac takes us to all the hotspots of the city but while doing so appreciates the history behind Ennui, giving us side by side comparisons of past and present. Our second piece is narrated by art correspondent, J.K.L. Berensen (Tilda Swinton) who proceeds to tell us the story of incarcerated artist Moses Rosenthaler (Benicio Del Toro) and his journey to inventing a new art movement. We see after a long enough hiatus, Rosenthaler returns to his paintbrushes for the first time since his imprisonment, once finding his muse. Yet it was fellow inmate Julien Cadazio (Adrien Brody) who took Rosenthalers art from inside the small city prison, to plastered across the world.
Story 3 follows journalist Lucinda Krementz (Frances McDormand) reporting on a student-led revolution - later dubbed as the ‘chessboard revolution’ - breaking out on the streets of Ennui. Within this student group, we meet Zeffirelli (Timothée Chalamet) who seeks advice from Krementz regarding the writing of his manifesto, and while trying to maintain journalistic neutrality, she proceeds to help him, as well as form some sort of relationship with him.
The final article is written by Roebuck Wright (Jeffery Wright). The basis being coverage of Lt. Nescaffier (Stephen Park), the renowned chef working in the Ennui police station who has the ability to create ingenious meals out of whatever lies around the station. However, this report becomes something quite different to what would’ve been expected, since the evening with good food develops into an extravagant chase to find the police commissioner’s son who had been kidnapped soon after Wright’s entrance. Our story ends with the death of Arthur Howtizer Jr., and the congregation of all his employees. While maintaining his legacy, they come together to finish the final issue of the French Dispatch honouring its editor.
This movie, as stated by Anderson himself, was heavily inspired by the New Yorker. I feel as though having multiple stories was the best way to have made a movie about any sort of publication. Specifically, the New Yorker which is known for having stories with topics spanning from politics to fictional stories, together with satire and comedy, it’s a cultural staple piece, and the vastness of the magazine was mirrored well in The French Dispatch. As each segment in this movie consisted of a different story, it makes sense to view them as separate stories. The cycling reporter was a nice, concise introduction to the movie and subsequently the final issue of the magazine. It gives the audience familiarity with the city and allows the audience to feel immersed in the story almost immediately like we are a part of it. It was a textbook definition of short and sweet. The concrete masterpiece was arguably my favourite short story. There were so many layers in the recount of a tortured artist’s life story, and the escalation from prison art to members of the highest societies fighting over a painting was so incredibly ridiculous, it made it seem very realistic. We jumped from murder and mental illness to art to tax evasion to 12-foot paintings embedded in prison walls, and I loved every bit of it. Now unlike the art and food segments, revisions to a manifesto seemed much more modest in terms of the ludicrous sort of plot. Essentially a journalist helped a kid with his typos in a manifesto and then added some finesse, all the while there’s a student rebellion; so, it was somewhat…ordinary. For this reason, it made me question whether it fit the rest of the movie's theme. Despite the basic nature of the plot, there were quite a few tributaries in the storyline, I’m assuming to add a bit more dimension and no doubt the extra detail helped. Evidently, it had more of a political undertone except I would’ve liked to see more done with it, the chess was a nice touch though.
Many people felt as though the Private Dining Room of the Police Commissioner was the pinnacle moment of the movie, but at this point so much had already happened it was hard for me to keep up with all the smaller details hence it didn’t grab my attention in the same way. However, when I was hit with an animated car chase with no talking for 5 minutes I was pleasantly surprised since it allowed me to regain my thoughts, keep up with what was going on and appreciate it. Again, the actual storyline was so absurd, it was the farthest thing I’d expected from a food and drink column, and that’s what made it so good and fundamentally so memorable. Generally speaking, the movie peaked in enjoyment during the second story for me, and although I can easily rank how I felt about all other parts of the movie I feel it’s important to express the fact that my rankings in no way mirror anyone else’s. The magic of having 4 short stories embedded into 1 big project allows everyone to like something, no one could walk out of the cinema saying the entire 108 minutes was boring, because there was something for one and all.
Walking into the movie I knew about 90% of its cast, and 75% of them I’m sure were in Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel. I sometimes find that movies with a star-studded cast usually don’t know how to utilise the actors effectively, oh but how Anderson defies me every time. It would take me a separate review to have an in-depth analysis of each character, which I’m mentally not in the right mindset for, nevertheless I will say that when a movie is this detailed in each aspect, it’s sure to have aced the casting. Bill Murray was, in my opinion, the perfect fit for the editor. He brought a sense of comfort and supportiveness to his job, while retaining the integrity of the magazine - much like his real-life counterpart Harold Ross (co-founder of The New Yorker), while I imagine Murray made it seem like an easier job. If anything, I'd say Murray’s version of Howitzer Jr. reminds me more of my own editor, super encouraging and lets me write whatever I like. Following on to our four main writers played by, Owen Wilson, Tilda Swinton, Francis McDormand and Jeffrey Wright. Each had some guidance on their characters as they were inspired by real people, which in my head seems so much more daunting than playing someone imaginary. That being said they all did a phenomenal job individually, none of them mirrored the other in any way ranging from attitude to writing style, the only similarity I can point out was the very high quality of acting of course. Supporting roles of those who stories were about, including; Benicio de Toro, Adrien Brody, Léa Seydoux, Timothée Chalamet, Lyna Khoudri, Mathieu Amalric, Stephen Park and Liev Schreiber, played their parts well. I mean what did you expect from this A-list cast. Keeping it short, I can’t fault the casting. If you were to ask me to recast this movie I’d just end up choosing the same people because I don’t think anyone else could’ve done the characters the justice as these actors did for their respective roles. Furthermore, I genuinely believe, no matter how bad the storyline could’ve been, these performers would still have done their job to the highest degree resulting in us falling in love with each persona, which is an art form in its own respect. On my last note of cast and characters, I have to say I loved the cameos made by the other Anderson project regulars. Mind you, if you were to combine collective screen times of the likes of Christoph Waltz, Willem Dafoe, Saoirse Ronan, Tony Revolori and of course Ed Norton, it probably equated to 2 minutes max. Were the cameos necessary? Absolutely. For Wes to cast the most minor roles just further proves how well he does his job and how much he cares about every little detail.
If there’s one thing that will always stand out in a Wes Anderson movie, a thing which so distinctively tells you it’s a Wes Anderson movie, it is, no doubt, the cinematography. Anderson and Yeoman partnered up once more to create a visual masterpiece, and the cinematography is one thing I completely, wholeheartedly wouldn’t be able to fault about this project. Everything from colour to lighting to camera angles was done impeccably. Yeoman who previously has won an academy award for The Grand Budapest Hotel maintains his high quality of work 6 years on.
In our fourth story, there was an aspect of animation involving a car chase which added another layer to the production of this movie. It allowed the segment of this story to be short enough to fit in the movie but simultaneously long enough for the audience to recognise the true length of the account. The animation wasn’t necessary but it was effective, and I don’t know if it was the aim, but immediately I thought it was used as a small way to honour the cartoons the New Yorker has been integrating within their magazine since the publication had began. The film’s score was also well done, each segment of the story had a distinct sound to it which was noticeable, yet it was still subtle enough not to overpower the scenes, rather just enhance them. If the tracklist was alienated from respective scenes though, I wouldn’t say it was a highlight for me personally.
On my last note on technicalities, I feel the need to appreciate the model makers. It’s a fact that Anderson uses miniature models in his projects which act as scene settings, for example, the hotel exterior used in The Grand Budapest Hotel. After being fortunate enough to visit the TFD exhibition in London, I was able to see some of these models up close and I can only describe them as incredibly detailed and extremely charming, it’s just one more thing that makes these movies unique. Moreover, Sandro Kopp, the artist who was responsible for Rosenthaler’s 12-foot murals also did an extraordinary job, when viewing them at the exhibition it was transparent that each piece was distinctive and undeniably awesome.
So if you couldn’t already tell by this point and needed me to say it straight up, I thoroughly enjoyed this movie. I feel as though the production of this movie was amazing, additionally so was the casting. I liked the general concept of the movie, the splitting into smaller distinct stories made complete sense to me for this kind of project and overall, there wasn’t much for me to criticise. Was this biased? Maybe, but aren’t all opinions. But I’ll end off with this, every time I watch a Wes Anderson movie, it truly feels like a passion project, and I personally don’t see that in every other blockbuster coming out these days.