The French Dispatch: Review

David Patrick Schranck Jr. #film review

Wes Anderson debuted his tenth feature-length film, The French Dispatch, at the Cannes Film Festival in July before it was released theatrically on Oct. 22nd. The COVID-19 pandemic forced the picture’s release to be pushed back by a year, and it was certainly worth the wait. The film, written and directed by Anderson, is an anthology of short vignettes, each of which focuses on a different reporter’s story for the eponymous French foreign bureau of the fictitious Liberty, Kansas Evening Sun newspaper as the last issue is prepared. This motion picture has an all-star ensemble cast including Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton, Frances McDormand, Timothée Chalamet, Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody, Benicio del Toro, Willem Dafoe, Jeffrey Wright, and Edward Norton among others.

The French Dispatch is the culmination of the best aspects of Anderson’s works distilled into a unique and satisfying format. The acting, direction, writing, production design, and cinematography are all excellent and each is distinctively Andersonian. The performances of the ensemble combined with Anderson’s screenplay are quirky, dryly comedic, and witty. The production design throughout is exquisite and charming, reflecting the attention to detail that defines the director’s works. The film is able to seamlessly switch from color to black and white photography throughout and integrate both 2D animation and stop-motion animation. The shot composition and character blocking are carefully planned, making for many shots throughout with some absolutely gorgeous mise-en-scène. Each of the segments is engaging and they provide an interesting variety that still feels cohesive. Suffice to say, Anderson definitely hits all of his marks with this picture.

Also worth mentioning is that I noticed some intriguing parallels between the film and the “behind the scenes” work of our very own Insurgent newspaper. The publication in the picture is not unabashedly radical like we are. However, the writers and editor portrayed in _The French Dispatch _felt very familiar to me. One story in the film features Tilda Swinton portraying an art critic named J.K.L. Berensen who gives a lecture about an incarcerated artist named Moses Rosenthaler, played by Benicio del Toro, reminding me of our prisoner contributions. Another focuses on a writer named Lucinda Krementz, played by Frances McDormand, who reports on a student protest movement, led by Timothée Chalamet’s character Zefferelli, that was inspired by the 1968 student protests in France. This of course called to mind our consistent coverage of student activism. Bill Murray’s character, Arthur Howitzer Jr., who is the editor of the publication, is particularly reminiscent of our former editor and current manager, Eric Howanietz, in the character’s general demeanor, his dedication to his publication, and his great care and advocacy for his writers. In actuality, Anderson took a lot of inspiration for his motion picture, that serves as a tribute to journalism, from The New Yorker. Overall, the manner in which the film showed how a publication comes together every issue rang true to me, which added a deeper layer of appreciation and sentimentality.

Some last points I wanted to focus on: Jeffrey Wright’s segment, where he plays a food writer loosely based on James Baldwin and journalist A.J. Liebling, includes an extended animated sequence that is so great and really enhanced the story. Additionally, the brief section at the beginning with Owen Wilson as a bicycle-riding travel writer named Herbsaint Sazearac was one of the funniest parts of the film. I wish this segment had been longer because I would’ve loved to have seen more from this character. But, the length did feel fitting within the larger context of the feature.

With The French Dispatch, Wes Anderson has made what I see as his most markedly Wes Anderson picture yet. It seems as if he has been able to carefully hone his skills over the decades in order to get to this point where he has mastered the best and most unique qualities of his work. Those who are already fans of Anderson will likely have the most appreciation for his latest project. But, I think many who are unfamiliar with his filmography will still find this film to be quite enjoyable. I might even go as far as to say that _The French Dispatch _may very well be my favorite picture from Wes Anderson that I’ve seen. It’s certainly one of my favorite films of 2021 so far. I hope that the early Oscar buzz that it has received will translate into some well-deserved nominations. With that, I give the film a rating of five stars out of five. You can see it now playing at the Broadway Metro theater in Downtown Eugene and the Cinemark theater in Springfield. Catch it while you still can, because it won’t be in theaters for much longer!