Wes Anderson has struck again. After his last trip to the animated film cinema, he returns THE FRENCH DISPATCH not just back to his roots. He digs them up and puts them on display, so that the tragicomedy, based on four stories from the American intellectual newspaper The New Yorker, becomes a pure Wes Anderson distillation. We reveal more about this in our review.
OT: The French Dispatch (DE/USA 2021)
On the occasion of the death of their beloved Kansas publisher Arthur Howitzer Jr. (Bill Murray), the staff of The French Dispatch, a well-known magazine based in the French town of Ennui-sur-Blasé, gathers to write his obituary . This creates four stories shaped by Howitzer’s memories: a kind of travel guide to the city’s shabbiest corners by the “cycling reporter” (Owen Wilson); “The Concrete Masterpiece” about a mentally disturbed, criminal painter (Benicio Del Toro), his prison guard and muse (Léa Seydoux) and his greedy art dealer (Adrien Brody); “Corrections to a Manifesto,” a chronicle of love and death on the barricades, at the height (!) of a student revolt; and “The Police Chief’s Private Dining Room,” a riveting tale of drugs, kidnapping and fine dining.
Broken down to its essence, you can recognize every Wes Anderson film by three basic ingredients: First: its style. The specialist for melancholic comedies fundamentally subordinates his stories to the furnishings and design, an arrangement of various set elements and the characters walking in them. In his productions, everything has its exact place and radius of movement. Nothing seems to be left to chance, so that any idea of symmetry is maintained until the end. Secondly: the characters, who always have an endearing quirkiness – which in turn is much more important than deep development. And third: the star cast. “The French Dispatch,” for example, features well-known Anderson faces like Bill Murray (“St. Vincent”) and Tilda Swinton (“Dating Queen”) to newcomers like Timothée Chalamet (“Call Me By Your Name”) No less than 18 (!) different actresses and actors, whose names should also be familiar to less film-savvy moviegoers. That’s a record even for Wes Anderson. The fact that he primarily relies on beloved friends and colleagues to cast him somewhat absolves him of the accusation of name-dropping. Nevertheless, there are some familiar faces here in roles so tiny that an extra could have filled them. And that heralds the problems of the film, but also the explanation for the fascination with Wes Anderson works that has always been associated with them.
With “The French Dispatch” Wes Anderson remains more than true to his film style.
What “6 Underground” was for Michael Bay and “The Irishman” for Martin Scorsese, “The French Dispatch” is now for Wes Anderson: a pure distillation of a penetrating directing style that no one has perfected as much as its creators themselves. There it is completely legitimate and understandable that here – more than ever – conventional storytelling takes a back seat, character development only plays a subordinate role and everything is subordinated to the skills mentioned at the beginning for which Anderson has become known. This starts with your chosen topic. The American magazine The New Yorker, which has published short stories, reviews, essays, poetry and cartoons since 1925, but above all immensely extensive reports (John Hersey’s “Hiroshima” from 1946 about the atomic drop on the Japanese port city of the same name was even published). an entire edition was dedicated to it, which later sold millions of copies in book form). There is still no USA edition of the magazine. A subscription to the original version can now also be obtained online in this country. Particularly in fast-moving, online-dominated journalism, The New Yorker is an extremely long-lasting marginal phenomenon. This longevity is particularly surprising because the creators are not concerned with attracting as wide a readership as possible – and yet the brand has lasted for so many decades. The New Yorker’s image fits perfectly with the focus of The French Dispatch. Because even Wes Anderson is not interested in whether anyone out there might not be able to grasp the cosmos of his four stories. But probably none of these people will stray into an idea of “The French Dispatch” anyway…
“The New Yorker’s image fits perfectly with the direction of The French Dispatch. Because even Wes Anderson is not interested in whether anyone out there might not be able to grasp the cosmos of his four stories.”
Anyone who does this, on the other hand, will be rewarded with a kind of best of everything that Wes Anderson has thrilled his audience with in recent years. In order to make this as diverse as possible, he uses a short film narrative structure – the script was also written by him – which enables him to include as much and varied material as possible in “The French Dispatch”. After Owen Wilson (“Bliss”) When the cycling street reporter Herbsaint Sazerac gave a clever (and also geographical) insight into the world from which Wes Anderson will tell in the next hour and three quarters, three short stories follow, based on well-known stories from the New Yorker (or here from the French Dispatch) . “The Concrete Masterpiece” is about a convicted murderer who, behind bars, declares a prison guard his muse, while a greedy art lover prepares to claim the killer’s art as his own. This story is framed by the stories of the art critic JKL Berensen (Tilda Swinton), who brings the story closer to her audience during a stage lecture. In terms of content, this subplot would not be necessary, but of course it offers Anderson the opportunity to once again cast “his” Tilda Swinton (even if she has already been seen in much more eccentric roles with him). It also highlights early on the increasingly convoluted narrative and production structure of “The French Dispatch.” Ultimately, as many creative ideas as possible should be included in the film.
Léa Seydoux plays the muse of a convicted murderer in “The French Dispatch.”
“The Concrete Masterpiece” begins with a perfectly placed punch line when Wes Anderson plays with the supposedly given roles in a prison early on, before he shows that here – as in the entire work – it is far less about the characters and the aspect of the History goes. Instead, the focus is on art (here painting) and culture. In the second episode “Revisions to a Manifesto” it looks the same. It is not painting, but journalism as such that is being examined for its existence in the best Anderson style; This is about the integrity of the reporter Lucinda Krementz (Frances McDormand), who, as a result of a liaison with the much younger student group leader Zeffirelli (Timothée Chalament), instigates a student revolt, which Krementz is actually supposed to write about soberly with an emotional distance. “The French Dispatch” is not a film with too much narrative depth. Nevertheless, the recurring element of moral border crossings emerges from all three episodes, which Anderson always resolves with a (sometimes bigger, sometimes smaller) bang. This also applies to the final story “The Private Dining Room of the Police Commissioner” about the world-famous chef Nescafier (Steve Park), who reports on an almost unbelievable (and incredibly unhinged) kidnapping case from his past. You can’t get enough of the exalted performances of all the actors and actresses in “The French Dispatch” – Wes Anderson has never been one to demand overly subtle performances from his cast. In many places they help to make up for the emptiness of the content apart from some damn well placed gags, especially of a visual nature. Anderson celebrates playfulness and entertainment, for which he fundamentally puts the narrative aside. However, if you look at the film not as a classic narrative film, but as a patchwork quilt of creativity, it works really well.
“You can’t get enough of the exalted performances of all the actors in ‘The French Dispatch’. In many places they help to overcome the emptiness of the content apart from some damn well placed gags, especially of a visual nature.”
In keeping with the idea of incorporating as many ideas as possible into a single film, Anderson’s stories jump through different decades to which he can apply his very own visual style. However, the fact that a large part of the film was shot in black and white robs “The French Dispatch” of its potential. One has the feeling that much of Anderson’s indulgence in colors and shapes as well as the coordination of one with the other remains somewhat hidden from you as part of the audience. But in the end, Anderson succeeds with his latest work exactly what Michael Bay achieved with “6 Underground” or Martin Scorsese with “The Irishman” in recent years: They offer their fans the opportunity to look through the artistry of their work to work. And either you get absorbed in it or you don’t. However, it is definitely a fair deal.
Conclusion: You don’t watch “The French Dispatch” because of its content qualities but because of a Wes Anderson all-star cast, the usual creative staging and a noticeable love for the material. Even if the director and author certainly won’t be able to inspire everyone. So basically everything is as usual at the Anderson house.
“The French Dispatch” can be seen in USA cinemas from October 21, 2021.