The French Dispatch review: Wes Anderson loves The New Yorker and the New Wave

Wes Anderson’s meticulously crafted omnibus narrative French DispatchAlthough he pushes the boundaries of his beauty pursuit, he finds it difficult to be more than an exercise in visual perception. The rotation begins with an eulogy by Arthur Howitzer Jr. (Bill Murray), which is based on The New YorkerHarold Ross, the founder of Ennui-sur-Blase, has passed away. A Midwesterner inspired by his youthful travels to France, Howitzer wanted to send the happenings of Ennui-sur-Blasé back to the corn fields of Kansas. He founded the magazine Soft. French DispatchAs an additional of The Evening Sun

The movie doesn’t address how Howitzer died. Anderson notes only that Howitzer died at his desk and that his last wish was to be with the Dispatch The last issue was dedicated to his funeral and the publication of his final issues. The rest of the film takes place prior to his passing, tracking how his low-key spirited defense of his neurotic journalists and his blasé demeanor helped guide what stories made each issue. His favorite advice for his writers: “Try to make it sound like you wrote it that way on purpose.”

This film can be divided into five vignettes. Each one is a report column that belongs to a certain newspaper section. Like many anthology films, certain sections perform better than others. Anderson’s penchant for dry comedy used to explain grief, the inner workings of dysfunctional people, and children experiencing the loss of innocence comes to the forefront once again. And yet this is the director’s least digestible work. It’s supposedly a love letter to the New YorkerOf yore but while French Dispatch features Anderson’s familiar aesthetic style, it’s often a distant omnibus that might appeal only to his most ardent fans.

Tilda Swinton, Lois Smith, Adrien Brody, Henry Winkler, Bob Balaban, and a crowd of others pack into a train car and stare into the camera in Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch.

Photo: Searchlight Pictures

From the beginning of the film, it’s difficult to square the emotional throughline. The first story is written by the travel writer Herbsaint Sazerac (Owen Wilson), a slapstick exposé informed by his biking through the seedier areas of Ennui. The second tale, “The Concrete Masterpiece,” sees an imprisoned sociopathic painter (Benicio del Toro) coming to the attention of a huckster and imprisoned art dealer (Adrien Brody). Léa Seydoux, playing a prison guard, is Del Toro’s muse. And Tilda Swinton’s J.K.L. Berensen is Berensen’s reporter. Both stories lack a striking narrative. The amusement stems from the actors’ commitment to the bit — especially Del Toro and Swinton, as two idiosyncratic characters with little regard for how people perceive them.

Other stories fail to land too: “Revisions To A Manifesto” sees reporter Lucinda Krementz (Frances McDormand) profiling rebelling students imposing a revolution in May of 1968. Dune star Timothée Chalamet, portraying a Dylan-esque reprisal of his Lady BirdCharacter is the student leader. Lyna Khoudri plays the antagonistic teenager opposition. Chalamet plays the role with confidence. His character is only able to conceal his fears and insecurities because of his projected maturity. Likewise, McDormand is playing a role she’s assumed before, with greater success: Her “stern adult trying to relate to the youth” character here doesn’t live up to her role in Almost Famous

When these stories do come alive, it’s due to Anderson’s familiar visual language. Anderson relies heavily on black and white with a sharp texture, as well as animation and a cool-toned palette. While his compositions seem well-thought out and thoughtful, his depth is deeper than ever. He’s clearly composing odes to French New Wave standouts Jean-Luc Godard and Jean Renoir. Elisabeth Moss is the only part of the frame that has not been fully appreciated. She plays the minor but unimportant role of the DispatchCopyeditor. Anderson’s opinions on politics, food, and travel are limited. Anderson can only ape other literary styles.

These are excellent facsimiles to intriguing vignettes New Yorker columns, but they aren’t interesting in themselves. They’re loquacious, self-effacing long-reads, which can be interpreted as an ode to journalism, a kind of voice-specific reporting that’s seemingly been lost today. But Anderson isn’t wholly concerned with the journalists’ stark, quick-shifting perspectives. It’s noteworthy to consider how French DispatchIt opens. The film’s narrator, voiced by Anjelica Huston, explains how the paper’s sensibilities reflect its founder’s personal tastes.

Tilda Swinton, in an orange bouffant and blaze-orange layered dress, at a spotlighted podium in Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch

Photo: Searchlight Pictures

Anderson’sFrench Dispatch isn’t merely a love letter to journalism, it’s a romanization of an ideal editor. In a multitude of scenes, Howitzer is sifting through text to find the essence of the piece. Though he protests the exorbitant expenses his writers pile up, their overruns on word count, and the way they turn in stories he didn’t initially assign, he never cuts a column. He finds a way to make his writers’ voices work in concert with his vision. Anderson has double-curated every illustration that he sees, keeping this logic in mind. In a sense, he’s his film’s own editor-in-chief, wrangling together these disparate actors he’s come to dearly trust.

Maybe that’s why French Dispatch’s final segment bears the film’s kindest heart. “The Private Dining Room of the Police Commissioner” follows Jeffrey Wright portraying a food critic with a photographic memory of every word he’s ever written. The character is appearing on a talk show hosted by Liev Schreiber, presumably long after Howitzer’s death. The writer recounts how he met the renowned chef Nescaffier (Stephen Park) while visiting a police commissioner (Mathieu Amalric) on the night a chauffeur (Edward Norton) kidnapped the commissioner’s son Gigi (Winston Ait Hellal). It’s a sweet tale because Wright’s character is the only one of the journalists who expresses gratitude toward Howitzer. His memorial is real, affecting, and without an overzealous aesthetic flourish, made possible by Wright’s detailed yet vulnerable performance.

The tenor Wright strikes leads perfectly to the film’s eulogizing end. Howitzer’s writers gather round to compose his obituary, in a tribute to their fallen leader. But there’s a lot of bifurcation in this movie (the artist’s double vision, Chalamet’s two lovers, etc.), and it’s mirrored in the doubling in this scene. Anderson’s trusted performers are, in a sense, writing a tribute to him, too, praising his vision and approach. It doesn’t seem like a purposeful choice Anderson made — if it was, he might have personalized this film sooner.

But, considering all the styles and themes that are out there,French DispatchYou might discover more of the films genuine charms by rewatching it several times. However, it is difficult to see the full film on a single view. Non-Anderson fans may struggle to appreciate a film that has a rhythm. French Dispatch is probably the worst film of the director’s career. However, even the worst of his films are worth it.

French DispatchThe film premieres at theaters October 22, and will be distributed to a larger audience on October 29.

Timothée Chalamet and Lyna Khoudri lean on opposite sides of an outdoor jukebox (that’s a thing?), facing away from each other in Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch.

Photo: Searchlight Pictures

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