Long time cinema auteur Wes Anderson returns to cinemas with his unique brand of whimsy and totally distinctive visual palette with The French Dispatch, and it makes for a charming watch.
Described as “a love letter to journalists set at an outpost of an American newspaper in a fictional 20th-century French city”, centering on three storylines, and brings to life a collection of tales published in the eponymous The French Dispatch.
Wanting to bring his love for the art of journalism to the big screen and striving to do something different in a narrative sense, while leaning into the structure and tropes of the short story, Wes Anderson brings to audiences The French Dispatch, an undeniably unique cinematic presentation filled with visual panache, dry humour, quirky characters and a wholly especial vision that can only be attributed to the singular voice that belongs to Anderson himself. Modelling his story on his love for The New Yorker and its unique brand of journalism and taking inspiration from the social, political and artistic landscape of the late 1950s to early 1960s, along with injecting his own broad imagination into the arena, Anderson crafts forward The French Dispatch and it’s something else entirely.
Styled as a cinematic ‘magazine’ in its presentation, The French Dispatch draws on one short form narrative ‘The Cycling Reporter’ and three larger articles, ‘The Concrete Masterpiece’, ‘Revisions to a Manifesto’ and ‘The Private Dining Room of the Police Commissioner’ to tell its narrative and all are overseen by the legendary, but cantankerous editor Arthur Howitzer Jr. (Bill Murray). It’s a thoroughly different structure and fully invests the audience in Anderson’s story and the fantastical quirky nature of the film’s subject matter only feeds further into the story that Anderson is presenting to his audience and the reaction that this audience has to this material.
Anderson is an artist who attracts the best of the best for his productions and this is a ‘who’s who’ of talent when it comes to the reporters and subjects of The French Dispatch. As subjects, you have the likes of Benicio del Toro as aggressively depressive incarcerated artist Moses Rosenthaler, Adrien Brody as the foppish and arrogant art dealer Julien Cadazio, Timothée Chalamet as the bookish, yet out-spoken student revolutionary Zeffirelli, Stephen Park as the immensely talented police chef Lt. Nescaffier and Willem Dafoe as Albert the Abacus, a wild-eyed gangsters accountant who is the cause of a lot of fuss.
On the other side of the subjects of The French Dispatch are the journalists who document their actions and stories and again the line-up of performers is extraordinary. You have Tilda Swinton as J.K.L. Berensen, art critic and fashionista who has her pulse on the movings of the art world, Frances McDormand as Lucinda Krementz, a grammatically astute reporter and whom is completely unattached who falls into Zeffirelli’s building student revolution, Jeffrey Wright as Roebuck Wright, a dapper and precise food journalist who has a rhythm for words and whose finger is on the pulse of societal affairs and Owen Wilson as Herbsaint Sazerac, a travel writer and staff writer for The French Dispatch. Bringing them all together is the indomitable Bill Murray as the gruff and no-nonsense Arthur Howitzer Jr. the founder and chief editor of The French Dispatch and this is pitch-perfect Murray.
To look upon The French Dispatch is to open your eyes to a film of pure creative expression. As Anderson is known to do, this film is brought together with his unique eye for a perfectly complex level of detail and the film’s visual trappings take up plenty of space upon the screen. Production designer Adam Stockhausen and cinematographer Robert D. Yeoman look to the classic works of the French New Wave in order to build out Anderson’s vision for The French Dispatch and the result is a visually rich and quirky cinematic presentation that audiences are sure to lap up and marvel upon.
Long time fans of Anderson’s unique sense of cinematic quirkiness will fall in love with The French Dispatch and its idiosyncratic visual style and dramatic-comedy mix. It’s a testament to a unique style of storytelling and a celebration of the art form of the journalist and the relationship they share with their subject and it’s a very special cinema presentation.
Image: 20th Century Studios