Wes Anderson’s newest film, The French Dispatch, is a comedy-drama anthology starring a long, impressive list of big name movie stars. The film is an amazing addition to the unique and visionary filmography of Wes Anderson.
The French Dispatch follows a group of journalists who write for the American magazine named, ‘The French Dispatch.’ The film is creatively told through the lens of their respective columns and experiences of investigative journalism as they organize the magazine’s last edition after the death of the editor-in-chief. The mini-stories include that of a student revolution, an imprisoned artist with his prison guard muse, and a kidnapping mystery. The film’s ensemble stars Wes Anderson’s usual casting with such names as Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, and Tilda Swinton, but also includes Wes Anderson debuts such as Timothée Chalamet and Alex Lawther.
Being a Wes Anderson film, visuals are an essential piece to the experience as a whole. From the framing to the color grading, the film is truly a moving painting. Aside from Wes Anderson’s renowned cinematography, the filmmaking choices that stood out among the rest were the set designs, editing, and inclusion of animation and miniatures.
The set designs in The French Dispatch were visionary and gave off the imaginative, whimsical impression of a play. Each mini-story had a distinct tone and unique character that was built heavily on the immersive world created through set design. Attention to detail is notable, and design is consistent throughout with intentional choices regarding symmetry and color. An example of the memorable set design was at the Cafe Le Sans Blague. This set was a vivid yellow and served as a youthful, bold hangout spot for the young revolutionaries of the film’s chapter, “Revisions to a Manifesto.” Inside the cafe particular elements such as the jukebox, pinball machine, checkered tile floors, and spiral staircase created a space that felt like its own character of the film. It also perfectly captured the attitude and tone of the young revolutionaries and made a lasting image in audiences’ minds.
The editing was another impressively inspired piece of the film. As an anthology, it was endearing in how the three chapters were divided and introduced through each of the publication’s column titles. This organization helped with the pacing and rhythm of the film. This editing choice established little room for confusion between chapters by prefacing each story with a shift in theme and author. Much of the comedic timing of the film was also largely due to the witty editing choices. The film earned many genuine laughs from the audience and succeeded in labeling itself as a comedy through well-timed edits. The editing was uniquely visually playful throughout, and contained much more substance than basic cuts and transitions.
The French Dispatch also included small charismatic scenes of animation and practical miniature sets. This added element of storytelling helped to create Wes Anderson’s world-building of the sensational fictitious city, Ennui-sur-Blase. It also served as an inventive way to portray lively scenes in fantastical ways that would be otherwise limited with traditional filmmaking. This creative choice was memorable and incredibly witty in terms of finding alternative ways to achieve the vision of large sequence shots without losing the nostalgic charm of the story.
In terms of acting, the entirety of the ensemble gave incredibly strong performances. The exceptional few that stood out from the rest were from Adrien Brody, Tilda Swinton, and Benicio Del Toro. Adrien Brody and Tilda Swinton gave hilarious and exuberant performances as Julien Cadazio and J.K.L. Berensen. The two were not characters that necessarily had much depth, yet still demanded audience attention from their strong on-screen presence. Benicio Del Toro portrayed Moses Rosenthaler and became him with ease. The role was not a particularly demanding one; however Benicio Del Toro managed to leave a moving impact with few words, actions, or grand emotions. Despite being an anthology, these three performances were exceedingly memorable and left the most lasting impression.
From a writing perspective, The French Dispatch was genuine and imaginative. Wes Anderson wrote such dimensional characters that the audience could understand and empathize with, regardless of their screen time. While the individual chapters varied in characters and plot, the main themes remained clearly consistent as loneliness, friendship, family, love, and death. It was a satisfying story that was wrapped up nicely as the end of an era of “The French Dispatch.”
The film as a whole was effective in creating an overall immersive, emotional experience. The combination of breathtaking visuals with amazing acting was beautiful. The French Dispatch is a one-of-a-kind film that deserves wide recognition for the art piece that it is.
One piece of criticism would be that the film began to drag on towards the end. It lost its pace by the last chapter, “The Private Dining Room of the Police Commissioner,” and was difficult to remain completely invested in. This change in pace was potentially due to the fact that the first two chapters were the strongest and the last lacked in a distinct clear objective like the previous. Despite this observation, the film was one that could be appreciated by many and may even deserve to be rewatched as well.
The French Dispatch would be best suited for those with a liking for unconventional humor, eccentric stories, and escapist visuals. By and large, this film should be near the top of the 2021 watchlist.