The French Dispatch
Reviewed for Shockya.com by Abe Friedtanzer
Director: Wes Anderson
Writer: Wes Anderson, Roman Coppola, and Hugo Guinness
Cast: Benicio del Toro, Adrien Brody, Tilda Swinton, Léa Seydoux, Frances McDormand, Timothée Chalamet, Lyna Khoudri, Jeffrey Wright, Mathieu Amalric, Stephen Park, Bill Murray and Owen Wilson
Screened at: Film Fest 919, Chapel Hill, NC, 10/20/21
Opens: October 22nd, 2021
Many directors and writers leave a distinct mark on their work, a recognizable imprint that invites audiences to enjoy something familiar from project to project even if they are otherwise unrelated. Actors may recur and themes or styles may be present, and fans of one auteur’s films might seek out his or her next project simply because their name is attached to it. Someone for whom that is undeniably true is Wes Anderson, whose eccentric, imaginative fantasies blur the boundaries of reality and bring viewers along for an offbeat and peculiar ride. His latest, The French Dispatch, is no exception.
The film’s full title explains that The French Dispatch is the name of a section of the Liberty, Kansas Evening Sun, sharing the goings-on in Ennui-sur-Blasé in faraway France with an apparent readership back in the American plains. Broken up into four stories, its contents include one tale of art, another of revolution, a third about food, and an epilogue about death. Each is told in Anderson’s typical format, one that often jumps between lecture-style narration from a future point of seeming omniscience and the actual events being portrayed.
Like many of Anderson’s previous works, this film is a whimsical delight, one that will enthrall fans of offbeat storytelling but may not entice those previously unexposed to or unamused by his established tendencies. The mere existence of the publication in question is absurd, since the cross-section of people living in Kansas interested in the fanciful happenings of somewhere across the ocean that looks nothing like their hometown couldn’t possibly be enough to merit more than an issue or two. But reality has never been an obstacle for Anderson, and this energetic tale allows him to explore new characters and ideas that feel incredibly natural for him.
There is a marvelous fluidity to the way in which the film is sewn together, exempting a few somewhat abrupt fades that serve to punctuate a particular scene that has reached the end of its course. The American actors speak in English and are replied to immediately in French by those native to the country, able to fully understand each other even if the audiences need subtitles, which appear playfully on the screen, often stacked on top of the previous line of dialogue rather than under to indicate the wealth of information and strong sentiments being conveyed in each witty burst of furiously fast French. Black-and-white sets turn into color in an instant and then back again, and animation is introduced at one point to best illustrate the wild, over-the-top nature of one dramatic subplot.
Anderson’s script with frequent collaborators Roman Coppola and Hugo Guinness is inventive and highly entertaining, and, as always, he makes excellent use of a spectacular ensemble. Some of his most frequent favorites, like Adrien Brody, Owen Wilson, and Bill Murray, are put to great use, while new additions are entirely perfect, like Lea Séydoux, Lyna Koudri, Timothée Chalamet, and Jeffrey Wright. The only disappointment is the minor participation of certain big names such as Christoph Waltz and Elisabeth Moss. For all its vividly engaging content, this film runs only one hour and forty-eight minutes, packing in as much quirkiness as possible in that relatively brief but still satisfying runtime.
Though its four parts are tied together by their shared printing in this fictional publication, each does feel somewhat different and isn’t meant to entirely relate. Yet that’s part of the wonder of this captivating diversion, that each segment dives so deeply into the world it’s meant to explore. Insane artists, overeager revolutionaries, police chefs, and obituaries present their own peculiar opportunities which this film joyfully takes. The intricacies of an efficient and non-distracting diet prepared exclusively for law enforcement are just one example of the hilarious complexities conceived of by Anderson and brought to terrific life by his formidable and ever-expanding troupe of actors.
Story – A-
Acting – A-
Technical – A-
Overall – A-