Written by Taylor Baker
Yet another Covid belated release bows in theaters this awards season push, nearly two full years since it’s screenplay was available for purchase in France. Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch is now on multiplex screens around the country. With all the formal panache and tweeness Anderson is known and largely renowned for. The French Dispatch is a staggered vignette anthology film that mostly ties together by the end, not unlike The Ballad of Buster Scruggs. The last Coen Brothers film which was released on Netflix in 2018 to mixed reactions from audiences. For Anderson fans The French Dispatch will feel like a familiar experience with plenty of stylings, witticisms, and casting choices that make you feel right at home.
For non-Anderson fans though, the throughline of a narrative expressly about Ennui the word and place may seem more than a bit much. Each part is composed of different elements that are all tonally similar, but largely develop into delightful little offshoot excuses for Anderson to experiment with different subplot arcs. Ranging from kidnapping, shoot outs, high stakes chess, chase sequences, nudity, animation, prison, and “Art”. As one would expect from differing sequences with varied elements some stand out more than others, but each is formally presented with the rigor and exacting visual standards that accompany one’s mind when they ruminate on Wes Anderson.
The opening sequence recounts the founding of a publication in Ennui-sur-Blasé, France called the Liberty Kansas Evening Sun. Pitched as a chance for a young Arthur Howitzer Jr. later played by Bill Murray to get his feet wet in the family business and learn about the world. The subsequent sections are each far more rich and detailed than this opening until we reach the end of the film which acts as a book end to the beginning, this time comprised almost entirely of men and women we’d grown to know over the runtime. The three major segments of the film are:
1. The Concrete Masterpiece which is framed by J.K.L. Berensen played by Tilda Swinton as she recalls the story of an artist in a maximum security prison played by Benicio Del Toro, his muse and prison guard played by Lea Seydoux, Adrien Brody the incarcerated man who discovers and buys Del Toro’s Moses Rosenthaler’s art, as well as a host of other talented actors and actresses. This particular sequence is easily my favorite, and presents some choices that feel new or at least uncommon for Wes.
2. Revisions To A Manifesto written and presented to us by Frances McDormand’s Lucinda Krementz. Revisions To A Manifesto recalls the story of Krementz who lives alone by choice and is unknowingly setup on a dinner date by friends with Christoph Waltz. On her way to the bathroom after some tear gas causes a single tear to begin rolling down her cheek she encounters a young and impassioned Timothée Chalamet. He’d snuck home and into the bathroom to bathe after a hard day fighting the good fight of youthful idealism against the establishment. The segment is mostly conversational and coyly addresses politics, youthful idealism, disillusionment, and the deification of dead youth.
3. The Private Dining Room — of the Police Commissioner presented by Jeffrey Wright’s Roebuck Wright with brief appearances by Liev Schreiber, Saoirse Ronan, Edward Norton, and Mathieu Amalric, as well as others. Consists of a story in which Wright’s character Wright is invited for dinner with the police commissioner played by Amalric for a piece that he has been tasked by Murray’s Howitzer Jr. with for the paper. When the commissioner’s son is kidnapped during their meal it turns into a wry rescue mission story that capitalizes in a delightful if on the nose sequence where Wright digs the last page of the piece out of the trash and Howitzer Jr. tells him that’s the reason to the write the piece.
Anderson reteamed with cinematographer Robert D. Yeoman who has worked on and off with him since his sophomore feature Rushmore. As well as editor Andrew Weisblum who has worked with Aronofsky since The Wrestler. It’s always hard to tell where Anderson’s choices begin and end and where a crafts persons work begins, but the collaboration between these three appeared effortless and seamed together with enough ease that no transitions felt jarring, which isn’t an easy task in anthology films. Though The French Exit lacks the enveloping romanticism I’ve found in my favorite Anderson films it’s an intriguing formal exercise from a master. Luckily the viewing experience wasn’t one of ennui, despite it being our destination.
The French Dispatch Trailer
The French Dispatch is currently playing in theatrical wide release.
You can follow more of Taylor’s thoughts on Letterboxd, Twitter, and Rotten Tomatoes.