Film: The French Dispatch

Films don’t get much more Wes Andersonian than The French Dispatch (2021), which plays out in the directors’ inimitable, artsy style like a theme anthology. Based in a rustic French city, it chronicles the fictional history of a foreign bureau of a nonexistent Kansas newspaper. The set-up: in the mid-twentieth century, Arthur Howitzer Jr. (Bill Murray) takes the reins of a vanity supplement to his midwestern daily, with a uniquely profligate approach to journalism. Indeed, he more or less allows his talented, eclectic writers to punch their own ticket provided they “try to make it sound as if you wrote it that way on purpose.” Recounting tales from the bureau’s offices, we learn of a institutionalized criminal painter (Benicio Del Toro) whose avant-garde portraits of a beautiful guard (Lea Seydoux) catch the eye of a cagey art critic (Adrien Brody); a student rebellion in the city’s streets led by a young revolutionary (Timothée Chalamet), influenced by one of the bureau’s reporters (Frances McDormand); and the experience of another Dispatch journalist (Jeffrey Wright) who embeds with a local police commissioner (Mathieu Amalric) whose son is kidnapped.

Narratively speaking, I’m not convinced The French Dispatch adds up to all that much—but so what? Like all of Anderson’s films, it possesses a delightfully singular aesthetic and spins amusing, outre tales that showcase great performances from Anderson’s usual repertory company (plus some newcomers). It’s a restless collection, bouncing from color to black and white, live action to animation, and backwards and forwards through time, and every frame and sequence feels lovingly hand-crafted— with, as usual, a propensity for gorgeous, painting-like shot composition. If I were to search for a connecting theme, I’d call it a love letter to unfettered creativity, with Murray’s character standing in for Anderson’s eccentric viewpoint; the film almost feels like the director’s grateful indulgence, a metafictional thank you for even getting to bring such unconventional visions to life. The world needs room for more movies like this one.

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