Review: The French Dispatch

By Celia Pérez Gil

Wes Anderson delivers another accomplished 100 minutes of psychotically symmetrical quirk.

For a traditional film bro and lover of black and white films (such as Casablanca, Hitchcock classics Vertigo and Psycho, or even one of Fritz Lang´s bests, Blue Gardenia) contemporary motion pictures may pale in comparison to these giants. But I believe even the most stubborn and feudal of classic cinema fans could contend that The French Dispatch was one of most well-thought-of and sincerely enjoyable films of the last two decades. The French Dispatch is a truly artistic piece of cinema that benefits from director Wes Anderson’s manifest enjoyment of breaking the rules of conventional plot, character arcs, colour palette and arrangement of time.

Inspired by The New Yorker weekly publication in the 20th century, during the “golden age” of journalism, Wes Anderson decides to express his fondness for the American publication by creating its fictional substitution named The French Dispatch, which is in operation in 20th century France and covers the variety of historical European events that happened throughout that era. In order to kick his journal into high gear, he settles the editorial office in a fictional and bohemian French town called Ennui-sur-Blasé (boredom-on-apathy) and brings about a lively team of journalists (all based on real-life reporters that used to work for The New Yorker during that time). He makes way for an idiosyncratic selection of them to cover three main issues that fit like a glove in the “no-plot”, invisible structure of the film and the film devotes equal depth to each character.

The first issue from the Arts section functions as the first act and narrates the story of a mad impressionist painter stuck in an asylum with an impassive police guard as his muse, whilst the second issue, and second act, belongs to the Politics & Social section and focuses on a young student chess-player who leads student protests in Paris, which could be a distillation of the May 1968 riots in France. The final act and issue concerning the Food & Cuisine section highlights how the art of cooking can save someone’s life in an occurrence that involves “le commissaire” of a well-known prison in France, his exotic chef and the kidnapping of his criminal law passionate-son. 

Some salient factors worth mentioning: flashbacks disguised as in-and-out changes from the colour palette to black and white; artistic references scattered all over the picture that offer satisfying easter eggs to art-literate audience members (Timothee Chalamet’s pose in one frame mirrors that of The Death of Marat by Jacques-Louis David; and the influence of Broadway on the settings and transitions, as well as in both the irony and cheer in the dialogues of the film (there is an entire scene that serves as a tribute to Broadway musicals and the art of theatre itself since it consists of an actual musical interposed in the movie). There are even a couple of scenes that suddenly turn into comic strips!

The French Dispatch is a vivacious feat and a celebration of art in all its different forms. In addition to the fact that award ceremonies often favour narratives that centre a creative pursuit, the prospect of The French Dispatch getting some Oscar attention seems probable. At the very least, Anderson’s distinct and, at this point iconic, style should be rewarded with Best Cinematography.


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