The French Dispatch (2021) Review!!

Synopsis – A love letter to journalists set in an outpost of an American newspaper in a fictional 20th-century French city that brings to life a collection of stories published in “The French Dispatch” magazine.

My Take – Known for his signature aesthetic and uniquely quirky vibes, filmmaker Wes Anderson, over the course of nine films, has no doubt established a devoted fan following. With each subsequent entry into his distinct filmography he has introduced us to star studded cartoon like highly detailed cinematic worlds, constantly winking at the audience, as he manipulates aspect ratios, colors, timelines, and moves walls aside in plain sight most gloriously.

And while Anderson‘s tenth feature film, doesn’t quite match the magic of his most beloved films (2014’s The Grand Budapest Hotel being the best), it still is nonetheless a hugely mesmerizing and memorable trip, despite being wholly unusual, not to mention widely ambitious.

Backed by masterful production qualities and an ensemble cast, it is also one of his funniest films as the absurdity of some of the visuals are really a sight to behold, with each of the three stories captivating the audience in their own unique way. Of course, like most Anderson films, it is also not for everyone, but it is sure to draw in his sincere fans (like myself) appreciatively no matter what.

Set in the 1960s in the fictional Gallic commune of Ennui-sur-Blasé, the story follows the employees of the newspaper The French Dispatch that was founded by Arthur Howitzer Jr. (Bill Murray), a blustery Kansas expat who now acts as the editor of the European publication. Upon his death, his team of writers, an eccentric bunch of expatriates all recruited over the years by Howitzer in one way or another, are granted one final issue, which will contain an obituary, a brief travel guide, and their three best feature stories.

The first section sees Herbsaint Sazerac (Owen Wilson), a cycling reporter, offering a whistle-stop trip around Ennui’s various districts, where altar boys attack old people and everyone seems to wake up at exactly the same time. While the three retrospective stories selected are: 1) The Concrete Masterpiece, an account by the paper’s art critic J.K.L. Berensen (Tilda Swinton) and sets its sights on an artist named Moses Rosenthaler (Benicio Del Toro), who was sentenced to life imprisonment in an asylum, where he finds himself caught in a financial conflict with an aggressive art dealer Julien Cadazio (Adrien Brody).

2) Revisions to a Manifesto, an account by the political correspondent Lucinda Krementz (Frances McDormand) that centers on a series of student riots led by young revolutionaries Zeffirelli (Timothée Chalamet) and Juliette (Lyna Khoudri). 3) The Private Dining Room of the Police Commissioner, an account by food critic Roebuck Wright (Jeffrey Wright) of how he got entangled in a kidnapping involving the son of the chief of police The Commissaire (Matthieu Almaric) that was solved by chef Lt. Nescaffier (Stephen Park). Ending with an obituary for Howitzer, written by his staff.

The film is consistently fun and engaging throughout for those with a clever and highbrow cinematic palette, and never wastes any time. Labeled as a love letter to journalism, the film can also occasionally feel a tad less complete or connected than other Anderson ventures due to its anthology structure, but each story, is so singularly satisfying that one can mostly forgive the fact that the film may not make for the most meaningful whole.

An while there is no central story to fully move the film from start to finish, the anthology-style structure still allows him to explore several of the themes found within his previous works, such as human curiosity and the ironic relationship we share with the world and its other characters.

Though many of his characters tend to overstay their welcome in a 103-minute narrative, the anthologies force director Anderson to be as efficient as possible with character development, creating several sequences where the direction tells just as much of the story as the script.

Like the final story of the food critic ranks as the best in terms of what’s on the page, giving Jeffrey Wright a wonderfully complex character who unintentionally learns several valuable lessons about his place in the world. Director Anderson‘s visual style is beloved by his fans, and suffice it to say the aesthetics here are nothing short of superb.

Visually, this is one of the most accomplished works ever made as Anderson toys with aspect ratios, color and black & white cinematography, ingeniously hilarious freeze frames, and a period-accurate soundtrack that seems to always be perfectly queued. Even a late-film traditionally animated sequence is creative and clever. There’s plenty of humor on display here too, both of the deadpan variety and of clever one-liners and reveals similar to many of director Wes Anderson‘s other films.

It would be a disservice to the film without bringing attention to his meticulous direction. One of the first scenes with the magazine news team trying to piece together their final issue is squarely suffocating the screen with its cast members crammed into a chosen aspect ratio. However, director Anderson does this with purpose, to set up quick-fire jokes when the camera pans out or shifts focus on visual quips. Murray’s bored, stone-faced delivery is perfect for the wonderful stories that come out of his writing kitchen.

The actors seem to enjoying themselves thoroughly. This is Bill Murray‘s ninth appearance in an Anderson film, Owen Wilson‘s eighth. Timothée Chalamet and Jeffrey Wright stand out most of all, while Benicio del Toro is a blast. Adrien Brody and Frances McDormand are excellent as always.

In other roles, Tilda Swinton, Léa Seydoux, Edward Norton, Mathieu Amalric, Bob Balaban, Henry Winkler, Christopher Waltz, Willem Dafoe, Elisabeth Moss, Anjelica Huston, Cécile de France, Stephen Park, Lyna Khoudri, Lois Smith, Jason Schwartzman, Guillaume Gallienne, Henry Winkler, Hippolyte Giradot, Rupert Friend, Liev Schreiber, Saoirse Ronan, Tony Revolori and others seem to be happy to show up. On the whole, ‘The French Dispatch’ is yet another meticulously-crafted Wes Anderson cinematic wonder bursting with spellbinding style and a charismatic cast.

Directed – Wes Anderson

Starring – Saoirse Ronan, Timothée Chalamet, Elisabeth Moss

Rated – R

Run Time – 103 minutes

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