The French Dispatch: Wes Anderson’s Latest Piѐce de Résistance
The French Dispatch is the kind of film that grabs you, rushes you, man-handles you into a taxi cab; onto a bicycle; into a wheelchair and takes you on a journey of absolute eccentricity. The film moved like a run-away horse, galloping from one tale to the next, from absolute magic to comedy to tragedy, love and loss. Altogether beautifully crafted into one chimeric creature—part Amélie, part Mauvais Sang, part pure cinematic genius. My viewing was absolutely mythic. The French Dispatch is perhaps Wes Anderson’s most decorative and action-packed film to date. Acknowledging this, I will, of course, recommend everyone watch it at least twice. So richly packed with detail, its decor, costumes, narrative forms and techniques are so varying, so very intricate that it is overwhelming at times. Every single shot is a work of art, a masterpiece, un chef d’œuvre. A recent New Yorker review of the film even warned that “on first viewing, audience members run the risk of having their perceptual circuits shorted”.
The film centres its plot around the final issue of The French Dispatch, a French travelogue turned permanent supplement magazine for the Liberty, Kansas Evening Star—a fictitious publication based on The New Yorker. The French Dispatch operates between its founding in 1925 by Arthur Howitzer, Jr. (Bill Murray) and 1975, the year of Howitzer’s death and by his wishes, the end of the publication. Set on the cobbled streets of a quintessential french town with a deliciously dark underbelly, Ennui-sur-Blasé, the film encompasses three tightly orchestrated, action-packed, almost clock-work vignettes, each based on a feature article by one of the magazine’s star writers; the tangerine chiffon-clad, buck-tooth art critic and historian with a seemingly scandalous past, J.K.L. Berenson (Tilda Swinton), the beautifully sober and sharply intelligent political correspondent, neatly packaged in a crimson skirt suit, Lucinda Krementz (Frances McDormand) and the suave, mysterious American author turned food writer, Roebuck Wright (Jeffrey Wright). There is also a delightful opening travelogue by a writer named Herbsaint Sazerac (Owen Wilson) in which he takes the audience through the town of Ennui on his bicycle. Subverting romantic ideas of French travel, he documents the town pickpockets, sex workers, violent choirboys and bodies fished out of the dark and murky river.
A recent Guardian review of The French Dispatch described it as “rather lovely, if ultimately as far removed from reality as is the film’s romanticised view of journalism”. But it’s not unreality, not at all. The film is at some points brutally honest, painfully raw and tragically sad. I could argue that the whimsical lime green thread adorned with jewels and bows running through the film is actually love. The story of an incarcerated artist, Moses Rosenthaler, (Benicio Del Toro) and his muse as well as prison guard, Simone (Léa Seydoux) is crafted with beautiful intimacy. The tale of a student uprising in Ennui covered by the political correspondent, Lucinda Krementz is comedically tense yet tender- including the hilariously outlandish romance between the middle-aged Krementz and nonchalant, thinly moustached, infantile student, Zeffirelli B (Timothee Chalamet) as well as the subsequent blossoming hate turned love affair between Zeffirelli and the fiercely earnest, idealistic fellow student, Juliette (Lyna Khoudri) which sees them riding off into a dreamy French sunset. Finally, perhaps the most poignant story is of Roebuck Wright; choosing exile in Ennui as a Black gay author, the now food writer focuses his piece on the best chef of police cuisine, Lieutenent Nescaffier (Steve Park) which soon transcends into a fabulous tale of kidnap and car chases. Turning the journalists prying pen on himself, Roebuck remarks on the persecution of gay people, declaring the charge to be that they “love the wrong way”.
Maybe the film is far removed from reality but is that not what cinema is? An escape? The French Dispatch may be bejewelled, paint-splattered and coated in croissant crumbs but at the heart of it there is undeniable humanity, humour and love. I would also like to add that I wish for this film to signal a turning point in journalism. My dear editors, I request that you watch this wonderful film and see a possible future for The Saint.