'The French Dispatch' Review
Wes Anderson, you’ve done it again! After a disappointing outing with “Isle of Dogs,” “The French Dispatch” is a great return to form. “Fantastic Mr. Fox” was probably the first great movie that I ever saw, and I can proudly say that it had a profound effect on me. I watched it obsessively after seeing it for the first time at the age of seven, and I consider it to be one of the greatest movies of all time. Wes Anderson has created yet another amazing film, one in a rare breed that feels both essential to watch in theaters, yet simultaneously necessary to purchase for home use, just so that one can pause, wind, and rewind to catch every intricate detail hidden in every beautiful frame of this movie. From the opening shot of a waiter delivering drinks, you are thrust into this meticulously constructed world. Poor imitators of Anderson often fail by including extended periods of downtime, believing that to somehow be an essential part of his style. In fact, the opposite is true. One can see Anderson’s touch through the truncation of this waiter’s walk. As he walks behind walls, ascending ever further towards the newsroom, you can see the extras partaking in their own routines.
As is customary with Wes Anderson films, this attention to style and detail remains throughout the entire movie. There is a real meticulousness to both the structure of the frames (both their content and their aspect ratios) and the movie itself. Centered around the death of Arthur Howitzer Jr. (played by Bill Murray), the editor of “The French Dispatch” (newspaper), four little vignettes are shown, presented as articles that had once been run in “The French Dispatch of the Liberty, Kansas Evening Sun.”
The first one, and perhaps my favorite, is Herbsaint Sazerac (Owen Wilson) giving a tour by bicycle of Ennui-sur-Blasé, the city where the rest of the stories take place. It is a heartfelt demonstration of the passage of time, intercut with revisions to the article. This segment is also the shortest, and I recommend for it to be watched, perhaps on YouTube once the movie comes out on DVD, by everyone, even those who do not like Wes Anderson movies. It is, as Herbsait Sazerac says, “supposed to be charming.”
I could go on and recap the rest of the vignettes, but I really think that you should just watch it yourself, so I’ll be brief. “The Concrete Masterpiece” by J.K.L. Berensen (Tilda Swinton) is an interesting rumination on the creation of art and its accessibility. Additionally starring Benicio del Toro, Adrien Brody, and Léa Seydoux, this vignette has some similarities to “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” with Adrien Brody again yearning for a great work of art.
In “Revisions to a Manifesto” by Lucinda Krementz (Frances McDormand), a student movement and revolt is built up and torn down to hilarious results. I cannot elaborate much upon this without revealing much of the payoff of this section. It does have a naked Timothée Chalamet if you are into that, though.
“The Private Dining Room of the Police Commissioner” by Roebuck Wright (Jeffrey Wright) is told to us on the set of a television interview that reminded me of the 1978 documentary film “Deal,” absurd toothpaste ads and all. The events that stem from the titular dining room are intense, funny, sometimes a Tintin-style comic strip, touching, and powerful. Out of the whole movie, this segment specifically feels like a tribute to French movies from the 50s and 60s. I was reminded of “Rififi” and “Tirez sur le Pianiste” during Wes Anderson’s depiction of a shootout and escape. This part also includes my favorite joke from the film. I suspect that Jeffrey Wright will be joining Wes Anderson’s collection of actors poached for future projects; he is a great fit.
The accompanying score is truly beautiful, and parts of it have been included in the album “Chanson’s d’Ennui Tip-Top” by Jarvis Cocker. “Aline” is a strong highlight, and the way it is integrated into “Revisions to a Manifesto” is extraordinarily beautiful.
The film alternates between black and white and full color for emotional or intense moments. I believe that this is meant to show the “8 pages of full color” of the magazine, which you see advertised on “The French Dispatch” magazine proper. The entire movie is a total love letter to these old magazines like “The New Yorker,” to the idea of France, and specifically to the abroad in France. All of our characters struggle with a sense of a lack of belonging and boredom, fitting for a town named Boredom-over-Indifference. The immigrant chef, the expat reporter, the revolutionary youths, the American in France — all these archetypes are given new life and beauty in this film. There is a specific part of the movie, referred to by Arthur Howitzer Jr. as the “best part,” in which Lt. Nescaffier tells us about a new taste, one that he has never tasted in his decades as a police chef. Roebuck Wright, our reporter for the segment, does not want to include it, but it truly is beautiful. What a delightful movie.