2021 saw a slew of star-studded films and one of these was Wes Anderson’s newest feature, The French Dispatch. The film follows the team at the titular magazine and the fictional French town of Ennui-sur-Blasé where the team is located. The cast is led by Bill Murray who plays the magazine’s editor, Arthur Howitzer Jr, based on The New Yorker’s founder Harold Ross with a starry cast including regular Anderson collaborators such as Owen Wilson, Jason Schwartzman, Tilda Swinton, Adrien Brody, Frances McDormand, and Anjelica Huston, among many others. Unlike his other films, The French Dispatch is an anthology film and consists of a tour around Ennui-sur-Blasé followed by three stories from the magazine’s final issue and an obituary for Howitzer, who has passed away.
The film is written and directed by Wes Anderson and features all the weirdness and wackiness that you would expect from one of his films. The town of Ennui-sur-Blasé sits perfectly in Anderson’s cinematic universe, while Anderson plays with the structure of the film itself, structuring it like a visual magazine with a content’s page that gives an overall summary, some stories, and a final conclusion in its obituary. The French Dispatch may not have as strong a story like The Grand Budapest Hotel or as many memorable characters such as those in The Royal Tenenbaums, and this seems to have divided hardcore Anderson fans, but to see Anderson experiment with film structure and the way in which the magazine influences the actual film and vice versa makes it intriguing to watch.
The first segment of the film is called “The Concrete Masterpiece” and stars Benecio del Toro as incarcerated artist Moses Rosenthaler who delves into abstract art inspired by his muse, Simone (Léa Seydoux). When fellow prisoner and art dealer, Julien Cadazio (Adrien Brody) spots one of Rosenthaler’s works in the prison, he makes it his mission to ensure that the latter is the most famous artist in the world even though he remains in prison. This segment features the strongest characterisation as there are fewer leading characters meaning that there is more room for them to be explored. Seydoux is spectacular as Simone. When we first see her, she is completely naked as she poses for Rosenthaler, but the way in which she is portrayed is full of empowerment as her role as prison guard means that she has ultimate control over the situation. Leading this segment is del Toro, who has never worked with Anderson before but proves to be a natural fit within his vision, while Brody can always be relied upon to bring a strong performance.
The second chapter is titled “Revisions to a Manifesto”, which follows reporter Lucinda Krementz (Frances McDormand) as she records a student revolution in which the male students, led by Zeffirelli (Timothée Chalamet) demand access to the female dormitory. This segment is probably the weakest of the three in that the other two have stories that are more compelling. This isn’t to say that it is a bad portion, but when compared to the other two, it’s clear that it doesn’t have the same level of magic. McDormand is perfect as always as the cynical Krementz, who is dead set in her ways and refuses to conform despite efforts from those around her, while Chalamet is absolutely charming as the young Zeffirelli.
The third segment, “The Private Dining Room of the Police Commissioner”, is the best of the three sections and features the most captivating performance in the entire film thanks to Jeffrey Wright’s incredible performance as reporter Roebuck Wright, who is inspired by James Baldwin and A. J. Liebling. Roebuck is a character whose reporting incorporates food and this specific story recalls his private meal with the Commissaire (Mathieu Amalric) where the food is prepared by renowned chef/police officer, Nescaffier (Stephen Park). There are a lot of moving parts in this segment, so the other characters aren’t as well-developed, but Roebuck’s character and his own experiences as a homosexual in a foreign country are particularly poignant and provides a nuance to the film that grounds the wackiness going on.
The music is provided by none other than Oscar-winning composer, Alexandre Desplat, who won his first Oscar for his amazing work on Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel. Desplat was originally slated to work on Guillermo del Toro’s latest film Nightmare Alley but chose to work on The French Dispatch in his fifth collaboration with Anderson and the score is incredible. The score is filled with classical French inspiration while the tracks alter in terms of tone and style to suit the stories that are being told. The track that plays while the shoot-out is taking place in the third segment is a particular highlight. On one hand, the score for The French Dispatch demonstrates Desplat’s affinity for capturing the world, and Anderson’s vision perfectly, but it is a shame that we didn’t get to hear his score for Nightmare Alley as it would have been incredible to see Desplat work with del Toro again and work with the noir and carnival aspects of the film.
The French Dispatch may not have the same level of magic as other Anderson features, but the way that he plays with the film’s structure allows it to stand out against other entries in his filmography. Relying on a slew of familiar faces that he has previously worked with, it’s great to see that the best performances came from those whom he hasn’t worked with before such as Jeffrey Wright and Benecio del Toro, who lead their segments with ease. Anderson proves yet again why he is one of the most creative minds that Hollywood has to offer thanks to his ability to create whimsy and mix it with deadpan comedy and points of drama, making a film that is filled with excellent balance.
What did you think of The French Dispatch. Let me know in the comments below!
The French Dispatch is now available to watch on Disney+!