Film review | ‘The French Dispatch’ a deliciously dense delivery – Times-Standard
Writer-director Wes Anderson’s new film “The French Dispatch” is positioned as a love letter to journalism.
But while this is a fictional American magazine set in France in the 1960s – a magazine that is greatly inspired by Anderson’s love for The New Yorker – “The French Dispatch” is more on the Anderson’s adoration for the news.
Three relatively brief stories make up the flesh of the film – three and a half if you squint – and they have very little to do with journalism itself. While it might be a bit of a disappointment for those of us who have spent our lifetimes with the company, it probably won’t matter much to Anderson fans and the general public.
“The French Dispatch” shows Anderson – the author of original and fascinating films, including “The Royal Tenenbaums”, “Moonrise Kingdom” and “The Grand Budapest Hotel” – at the height of his powers.
Everything about this work is as dense as Wes Anderson as one might imagine, from the exquisite rat-a-tat-tat writing to the incredibly rich shots that follow one another. (We didn’t even care about Anderson’s use of the typically boring four-to-three aspect ratio due to how skillfully he consistently composes the square frame.)
The film is also packed with top acting talent, with many cast members having worked with Anderson before, starting with narrator Anjelica Huston and including another of its mainstays, Bill Murray.
Murray portrays the magazine’s Kansas-born editor, Arthur Howitzer Jr., whose death brings together his carefully crafted team of talented journalists to write his obituary – and triggers the shutdown of publication of The French Dispatch.
Arthur was loyal to the reporters he had brought into the fold and let them get away with things like piling up big hotel bills during their assignment. He had a rule: “don’t cry” – as it says above his office door.
It is in this space that several people, including the cartoonist (Anderson’s regular Jason Schwartzman), the story editor (Fisher Stevens, “Short Circuit”) and the copy editor (Elisabeth Moss, ” The Handmaid’s Tale “) came to plan the obit and mourn their fallen leader.
The film then tells its aforementioned 3.5 stories, starting with the magazine’s fearless cycling journalist, Herbsaint Sazerac (Owen Wilson, another Anderson movie staple), offering a tour of the fictional French town that is home to the magazine, Ennui. -on- Blasé. (Filming took place in Angoulême, in the southwestern region of the country, with many locals serving as extras.)
We then move on to “The Concrete Masterpiece,” the first – and, at least on one viewing, the best – of three titled stories taken from the pages of the magazine. Told via a lecture by JKL Berensen (Tilda Swinton of “The Grand Budapest Hotel”), art critic of Dispatch, it concerns an insane criminal painter, Moses Rosenthaler (Benicio del Toro, and Tony Revolori as a young man). Moses creates brilliant work while a prison guard, Simone (Léa Seydoux from “No Time to Die”), poses nude for him. His talent attracts the attention of art dealer Julian Cadazio (Adrien Brody, “The Darjeeling Limited” of Anderson), who hopes to make a large and profitable sale of pieces to a collector based in Kansas.
Hopefully, this doesn’t go into too much detail to suggest that the pleasant payoff of the story is hinted at in its title.
Less captivating, but not without moments, is “Revisions to a Manifesto,” in which lone essayist Lucinda Krementz (Frances McDormand of “Moonrise Kingdom”) chronicles a revolution of the city’s youth. Lucinda’s journalistic neutrality is called into question, especially after she begins an affair with revolutionary Zeffirelli (Timothée Chalamet of “Dune”) AND modifies Zeffirelli’s writing.
She said to the surprised young man, “Put it this way: this is not the first manifesto that I have reread.”
“The French Dispatch” ends with the intricate and captivating “The Police Commissioner’s Private Dining Room”, told during a talk show (hosted by a character played by Liev Schreiber) by food writer Roebuck Wright ( Jeffrey Wright, giving the film’s best performance), who remembers every word he puts on the page. (Roebuck makes a mental bookmark when interrupted by his interviewer and, moments later, when asked if he remembers where he placed it, he replies, “Of course, idiot. . ”)
The convoluted ordeal involving the kidnapping of the crime-solving commissioner’s son also features Edward Norton (“Moonrise Kingdom”), Willem Dafoe (Anderson “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou”) and Saoirse Ronan (“The Grand Budapest Hotel “).
Anderson’s best films, such as the 2012 coming-of-age drama “Moonrise Kingdom”, have more heart than “The French Dispatch”. Anderson is more concerned with generating intelligent nonsense than attaching you to any of these characters, including Arthur, who is seen here and there via flashbacks.
However, there is so much to enjoy, to enjoy with this movie that the real story is that you come away wanting to see it again. Etc.
“The French Dispatch” is rated R for graphic nudity, certain sexual references and language. Duration: 1 hour 43 minutes.