BILLY MORRELL considers whether The French Dispatch is just another Wes Anderson film or an astute success?
‘Ennui rises suddenly on a Monday’
Whether by its distinctly limited colour palettes, meticulously curated settings, or recycled actors used again and again, a Wes Anderson film is hard to confuse with that of another director. His newest film, with at least two more confirmed for the next few years - The French Dispatch of the Liberty and Kansas Evening Sun - serves as Anderson’s ‘love letter to journalism’, and the stories which have continued to be shared through history via the medium of writing.
The film is fragmented into three parts, with a prologue outlining the history of ‘Ennui-sur-Blasé’, the town where the story finds itself, as told by Owen Wilson’s character ‘The Cycling Reporter’, and an epilogue entitled ‘Obituary’, telling of the death of the magazine’s editor (a fact which the viewer is made aware of from the opening scenes), surrounding these. Perhaps most interestingly, the visual aesthetic of the film finds itself constantly shifting as its stories do, and each distinct section in the film serves as a different article found in the titular magazine.
A Mural of Murder
Firstly, in ‘The Concrete Masterpiece’ from the fictious magazine’s ‘Art/Artists’ section, we are told the story of Moses Rosenthaler, a mentally unstable imprisoned man found guilty of murder. In a not-so-secret fling between him and a Prison Guard, Moses paints her. This is then drawn to the attention of a fellow inmate (played by Adrien Brody, most notable for his academy-award winning portrayal of Władysław Szpilman, a Polish composer who survived the Holocaust, in ‘The Pianist’), who purchases this piece of art, and becomes his exclusive art dealer from outside of the prison, making him ‘the most famous artist in the world’ . Much of this story revolves around the value of art - both fiscally and metaphorically - a testament which can be applied to the film’s subject matter of writing, and in an extended interpretation, the film itself.
A Young Revolution
The second portion, entitled ‘Revisions to a Manifesto’, and told through the writing of Francis McDormand (played by Lucinda Krementz), is arguably the most powerful piece found in this film, or perhaps just the one which hits the closest as a young person in our current climate. Somewhere between a comedy, a tragedy, and a romance, this piece tells of Zeffirelli, (played by Timotheé Chalamet), as he attempts to proclaim himself as the leader of the ‘Chessboard Revolution’, a result of the timeless conflict between
youthful rebellion and a government that just won’t listen. As the movement grows from focussing on a petty concern to a genuine angst towards military conscription and life as a young person, Zeffirelli comes head-to-head with Juliette (played by Lyna Khoudri), a fellow revolutionary symbolising the female aspect, all whilst Krementz engages in a fling with the young leader as she adapts his manifesto.
A Good Ending Hijacked?
Despite being filled with action and suspense (Will the son survive? Will the chef survive? Will neither? Will both?) and a hugely well-renowned cast (Liev Schreiber, Willem Dafoe, and Saoirse Ronan, to name a few), it is this third act which fails to leave as much of a lasting impression as its predecessors. Coming from the ‘Food’ section, ‘The Private Dining Room of the Police Commissioner’ jumps between the writer, Roebuck Wright, (played by Jeffrey Wright) recounting the story in a television interview and the story itself. When the son of the ‘Commissaire of the Ennui police force’ is kidnapped, he tells in morse code to ‘send the cook’, who then cooks for the kidnappers, poisoning all but one criminal’s food, leading to a dramatic chase around the streets of Ennui.
Whilst the story in this final piece is enjoyable enough to watch, the plot feels somewhat confusing purely for the sake of being confusing. Similarly, whilst beautifully executed and visually pleasing, the decision to animate the car chase, even in a film where the aspect ratio and colour grading is constantly changing, just feels like an excuse to be different for the sake of it.
Otherwise, however, the unique narrative choice and creative decisions made by Anderson for this film are extremely fulfilling to watch, and one could argue, the perfect medium to encapsulate the subject matter. Whilst perhaps not as accessible as The Grand Budapest Hotel, a comedy-drama, or Fantastic Mr. Fox, a stop-motion animated comedy, which are Anderson’s two most well-renowned films, this film is certainly a must-watch for those with a passion for writing or for cinema.
The French Dispatch is available to stream on Disney
Written by Billy Morrell