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Movie Review: The French Dispatch

by Jason Koenigsberg

For the past quarter century Wes Anderson has made his indelible mark on cinema with his quirky, intricately styled, ornate humanistic comedies. I have compared his films to those of Mel Brooks but his craft is more on the level of satire from Mark Twain but the with visual flair of Rembrandt. His camera is the equivalent to a master painters brush strokes. His newest film The French Dispatch which was delayed because of COVID marks 25 years since his debut film Bottle Rocket and continues treating his original screenplays and movies as if they are adaptations of novels, a tradition he started 20 years ago with The Royal Tenenbaums. He has always loved print media and The French Dispatch is his love letter to the New Yorker magazine and the dying art of print magazines. It is also one of the best anthology films in years.

The opening shot is the presses where the titular magazine, a supplement for a Sunday newspaper is being printed. From the early scenes the audience is thrown into another world of its own created from the filmmakers vision. Like his other pictures The French Dispatch has a timeless quality. It takes place in 1975 but contains many flashbacks and like Wes Anderson did with The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) he plays with the aspect ratio and even more this time around the color scheme. Most of the film is shot in full frame but it jumps to widescreen as well as constantly yet seamlessly going from colorful images that looks like pastel drawings to glorious black and white cinematography. In another movie it may have felt jarring but here it feels like we are being immersed into a series of beautiful paintings from a gallery at a museum. There are a lot of long shots, very few close ups. It does contain a lot of symmetrical framing in many of the shots. The design of The French Dispatch is surreal with Wes Anderson’s distinct signature all over it. Every frame feels like it could be part of an intricate dollhouse with details on practically ever corner of the screen. He has often been commended as one of the great visual stylists of modern cinema and here he is showing his immense talent on display to the point of unmistakable sophistication that only he along with his talented cast and crew could create. Many of the people in front of and behind the camera have worked with Wes Anderson numerous times. He has also made two excellent animated features and towards the end of this film there is an inspired animated sequence.

The French Dispatch is made up of three different stories woven together by the editor of the magazine and his obituary which acts as its own story that bookends the film. The different segments involve Benicio Del Toro as the “son of a Jewish Mexican horse rancher”, Lea Seydoux as a prison guard/muse/model for an artist, Jeffrey Wright as a food columnist, Frances McDormand as an on the scenes reporter who also edits manifests, Timothee Chalamet as a teenage idealist revolutionary, Edward Norton as a criminal, Bill Murray as the editor in chief, Tilda Swinton doing a spot on Barbara Walters impression, and many more talented actors and familiar faces fill out the rest of the huge cast. Even though this is an intricately woven, nostalgic love letter to New Yorker magazine it works even if the viewer has never picked up that periodical. The French Dispatch is also a loving homage to movies that came out of the French New Wave era. The most obvious one being the story that involves Timothee Chalamet and Frances McDormand but this movie is sprinkled with loving touches to Jean-Luc Godard, Francois Truffaut, and Agnes Varda just to name a few. But do not despair, even if the viewer is unfamiliar with French New Wave cinema they will still likely walk out of The French Dispatch having laughed a great deal and realized that they witnessed a great artist deliver his newest work of art that will be talked about for a long time to come and sit alongside his other modern classics.

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