The French Dispatch – Review

Bill Murray & Jeffrey Wright as Arthur Howitzer Jr. & Roebuck Wright in The French Dispatch – Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures

In an open love letter that is all things old school print journalism, The French Dispatch features a large ensemble cast while incorporating the pastel visual flair Wes Anderson is known for. Stepping out of his comfort zone Wes Anderson creates an anthology of storytelling to ensure that it is one of his most unique films in his career. 

Set in 1960 in a small fictitious town in France the main story is told through the editors room of The French Dispatch newspaper publication where Arthur Howitzer (Bill Murray) is collecting articles for the latest issues of the newspaper. Just like a newspaper, the film itself is told through pages of compiled short stories, each with its unique take on 1960’s France. The way the film is structured is just like reading a copy of The French Dispatch, we start off with an editor’s note “The Cycling Reporter” by Herbsaint Sazerac (Owen Wilson) which is then followed by three large headlining articles, the first being “The Concrete Masterpiece’‘ by J.K.L. Berensen (Tilda Swinton) which tells the story of a convicted felon (Benicio Del Toro), his prison guard and artistic inspiration (Léa Seydoux), and an arts dealer (Adrien Brody) who exploits the felon into creating modern art in which he seeks profit before an all out prison riot ensues. The second article is “Revisions to a Manifesto” by Lucinda Krementz (Frances McDormand) covering a story based on two embattling student revolutionists (Timothée Chalamet & Lyna Khoudri) trying to make change to boys being allowed into girls dormitories. The third article is “The Private Dining Room of the Police Commissioner” by Roebuck Wright (Jeffrey Wright) who is on a talk show where he retells one of his old stories where a chef and police officer investigates a high-profile kidnapping. The film concludes with an end note titled “Declines and Death” where we are taken back to the main story and the editor’s room. 

Each article gives enough time for the fantastic ensemble cast to shine in their roles with a few surprise cameos sprinkled across each article. Each featured article doesn’t intertwine with each other nor are the messages they tell aligned; but rather they each serve its own purpose in this story. The writers each went through their own life changing journeys and as they come together in the editors room they are faced with the final task of utilising everything they have learnt to write the last section of the final issue of The French Dispatch.

The French Dispatch of the Liberty, Kansas Evening Sun Publication Building in The French Dispatch – Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures

When it comes to the visual component of Wes Anderson films, what else can I say? Everything to know about his visual aesthetic is floating on the internet right now. For those blissfully unaware, Anderson has a very unique and distinct way to set his film – recognisable by a single frame. Almost every frame is completely symmetrical and everything is methodically organised in every single sequence, The French Dispatch provides an extremely polished visual aesthetic. The subject matter of its narrative may not particularly interest everyone but it absolutely keeps you hooked through its cinematography. Camera angles are awkward and interesting, framing is symmetrical at every junction and the colour palette blends so well together encapsulating you in each story being told. Wes Anderson isn’t aiming to achieve breathtaking cinematography but is simply taking the audience through this story under his unique and precise visual aesthetic. It will never get old or outdated.

Featuring a whopping 130 sets across small town Angoulême, The French Dispatch creates an incredible sense of authenticity for its storytelling through intricate and genuine set-design. Each set is incredibly detailed and per each frame, the colour choices are immaculate with everything perfectly arranged. Incorporating classical architecture in an attempt to replicate 50s/60s Paris to portray the fictional French city of Ennui-sur-Blasé. Akin to Anderson’s visual aesthetic, the score composition for his films aren’t usually designed to sweep you off your feet in a pool of excitement. It subtly plays in the background, usually in an upbeat and high-tempo rhythm. It doesn’t really add much to the storytelling but assists in the pacing and fits within the tone of the film.  

From the smoky rooms, frantic typing on a typewriter and articles based on unique and controversial stories; The French Dispatch is a true homage to old fashioned print journalism. While it may not be one of the best films Wes Anderson has made, it is surely one of his most imaginative and distinctive films to date.

7.8/10

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