The French Dispatch – Film Review
by Frank L.
Director Wes Anderson
Writers Wes Anderson (screenplay by), Roman Coppola (story by), Hugo Guinness(story by)
Stars – Benicio Del Toro, Adrien Brody, Tilda Swinton, Frances McDormand, Timothée Chalamet, Bill Murray, Henry Winkler, Willem Dafoe, Edward Norton, Saoirse Ronan, Elisabeth Moss, Jason Schwartzman
The French Dispatch is a weekly magazine authored in France. It forms part of the Liberty Kansas Evening Sun. The contributors to it are an eclectic collection of American journalists who live expatriate lives in France in the sixties and seventies. They are guided by an editor called Arthur Howitzer Jr. (Bill Murray) who has overseen the magazine for many years but has now died. The project started while he was on holiday as a travelogue but developed into a weekly magazine. The last edition of the magazine is being produced. The ambience of the French Dispatch has various attributes which in the real world are similar to those of the redoubtable New Yorker.
The office of the French Dispatch is in a complicated, ramshackle building, on the ground floor of which is a cafe, in a small town called “Ennui-sur-Blasé”. An early scene is a close up of a waiter loading a tray with beverages; then the camera retreats so that the circuitous route of the waiter and the tray can be observed as it makes its way up through the labyrinthine building to the office of Mr Howitzer Jnr. It makes for an enchanting image.
To understand the flavour of “Ennui“ as a town, there is a delightful series of photographs of the run downtown as it was in times past which is compared with its current state with the assistance of a voice-over (Angelica Huston). The main part of the film consists of three stories which the magazine is covering. Firstly there is an avant-garde artist who is in prison, secondly a student revolution like that of Paris 1968 which is in the pursuit of “freedom” is covered and finally, a famous chef who has a much-celebrated cuisine takes centre stage along with his benefactor. Each one of these stories is embellished with quirks and asides which even if unlikely are delivered with suitable gravitas, wit and charm.
There is a dizzying array of actors who people the plot even if they only have cameo appearances. Those with more substantial roles include Tilda Swinton as an art connoisseur (who is swathed in the most extravagant ball gown), Frances McDormand, Timothée Chalamet, and Adrien Brody. The cinematography moves from black and white to full colour and scene changes are rapid. Anderson, however, manages to keep the film and indeed the production of the French Dispatch just about under control. It is a roller coaster of images and witticisms. Every scene is carefully constructed and Anderson’s attention to detail is meticulous. The musical score of Alexandre Desplat is another delight.
When you see the long list of credits at the end of the film, you realise you may have missed some of the cast members, as their appearance was so fleeting. There also remains a desire to linger over some of the scenes so that Andersons’s attention to detail can be fully appreciated. On first viewing, you need to keep up with the narrative as Anderson packs a great deal into its 108 minutes. The French Dispatch engages on many levels; it is a joy.