Saturday, April 09, 2022

The French Dispatch


Written and directed by Wes Anderson from a story by Anderson, Roman Coppola, Jason Schwartzman, and Hugo Guinness, The French Dispatch of the Liberty, Kansas Evening Sun is the story of a French foreign bureau newspaper filled with American writers as they tell three stories that would be part of their final issue. The film is an anthology film that feature three different stories teach each tell something unique as well as the newspaper struggling to keep things going as the film is a love-letter to journalism. Starring Benicio del Toro, Adrien Brody, Tilda Swinton, Lea Seydoux, Frances McDormand, Timothee Chalamet, Lyna Khoudri, Jeffrey Wright, Mathieu Almaric, Stephen Park, Bill Murray, Saoirse Ronan, Liev Schreiber, Edward Norton, Cecile de France, Christoph Waltz, Tony Revolori, Lois Smith, Henry Winkler, Owen Wilson, and narration by Angelica Huston. The French Dispatch is a rapturous and evocative film from Wes Anderson.

Set in 1975 in the small town of Ennui, France, the film revolves a French foreign bureau newspaper whose editor had just died prompting its staff of American writers to finish its final issue that consists of three different stories. It is a film that explore the world of this magazine and the stories they tell as it all takes place in this small town in France that include three different stories plus a prologue, a small story about the town from a cycling reporter named Herbsaint Sazerac (Owen Wilson), and an epilogue. Wes Anderson’s screenplay is definitely inspired by the stories and the works of writers from The New Yorker as he play into this world of culture, politics, and adventure through the recollection of these writers. Sazerac’s story is just about the town this magazine is based on as it explore the many changes the town went through though its editor in Arthur Howitzer Jr. (Bill Murray) wonders why Sazerac also talks about some of the seedier aspects of the town as it sets the tone for the entire film.

The first story entitled The Concrete Masterpiece from the writer J.K.L. Berensen (Tilda Swinton) who hosts a lecture about the works of the artist Moses Rosenthaler (Benicio del Toro) and his own views on art including his relationship with his muse/prison guard in Simone (Lea Seydoux). It is a story that explore a man whose art is strange and abstract as a fellow prisoner in the art dealer Julien Cadazio (Adrien Brody) wants to show it to the world including Berensen’s old boss Upshur “Maw” Clampette (Lois Smith) while hoping Rosenthaler would make a grand masterpiece. The second story entitled Revisions to a Manifesto by Lucinda Krementz (Frances McDormand) explore a student protest revolution lead by Zeffirelli (Timothee Chalamet) whom Krementz gets close with yet finds herself having to deal with its complexities as well as vying for Zeffirelli’s affections with another student in Juliette (Lyna Khoudri). The third and final story entitled The Private Dining Room of the Police Commissioner by Roebuck Wright (Jeffrey Wright) was supposed to be about a dinner with Ennui’s police commissioner (Mathieu Almaric), that includes a revered chef/detective in Nescaffier (Stephen Park), where the commissioner’s son Gigi (Winston Ait Hellal) is kidnapped by a criminal syndicate over the arrest of an underworld accountant known as the Abacus (Willem Dafoe).

Anderson’s direction definitely bear a lot of the trademarks that he’s known for in his attention to detail in his framing, dolly-tracking shot camera movements, and other aspects that do play into his visual style. Shot largely on studios and locations in Angoulme in southwestern France, Anderson creates a world that is unique as the town of Ennui is this character where so much had happened as the first story by Sazerac as he’s riding on a bike revealed the town’s evolution as it is filled with these grand compare/contrast of what it looked like back in the first half of the 20th Century and what it would like in 1975. Shot largely on the 1:37:1 aspect ratio with some shots on different widescreen formats as well as some split-screens, Anderson uses the ratio to play into this world that is unique for this small town while much of the presentation is also shot in black-and-white except for much of the scenes at the magazine period and other bits in the three stories.

Anderson also draws upon some of the visual elements of the French New Wave in some of the compositions he creates in the medium and wide shots as he often captures so much detail into a room or in an entire setting. There are also some close-ups that Anderson uses to play into some of the drama and humor throughout the film as there is a lot of detail he brings that include moments of fantasy or reality. One of the stories also involve some comic-style animation supervised by Gwenn Germain in the style of The Adventures of Tintin for a key scene late in the film. The magazine itself that is illustrated by Javi Aznarez definitely owe a lot to the visuals of The New Yorker as it play into this idea of how a magazine can present stories for people to read with these interesting stories. While the narrative is straightforward though it is messy in some parts of the stories that are told as there’s small subplots and such in these stories. Anderson does play into the world of journalism in how they see things while the film is dedicated to many of those writers who did write for The New Yorker which some of the characters are based on. Overall, Anderson crafts a whimsical and exhilarating film about a French magazine run by Americans and the stories they tell in a small French town.

Cinematographer Robert D. Yeoman does incredible work with the film’s cinematography with its stylish usage of black-and-white film stock and its approach to lighting for some scenes as well as some of the colorful and vibrant lighting for the scenes in color including the scenes at night. Editor Andrew Weisblum does excellent work with the editing as its usage of jump-cuts help play into the humor and action as well as straightforward cuts to help play into the drama. Production designer Adam Stockhausen, with set decorator Rene DeAngelo and supervising art director Stephanne Cressend, does phenomenal work with the sets from the home of Zeffirelli and the place he hung out to the prison asylum that Rosenthaler does his work as well as the office at the magazine. Costume designer Milena Canonero does amazing work with the costumes from the look of the journalists as well as the many characters they encounter as it play into a lot of style with so much detail that include the motorcycle helmet that Juliette wears.

Hair/makeup designer Frances Hannon and hair/makeup supervisor Fabienne Robineau do brilliant work with the look of the characters as they each have a distinctive personality as it adds to the film’s whimsical charm. Special effects supervisor Jean-Christophe Magnaud and visual effects supervisor Keith Devlin do terrific work with some of the film’s practical effects in some of the action as well as the design for some set pieces involving miniatures. Sound editor Christopher Scarabosio does superb work with the sound in the sound effects used for some of the objects and such including the sparse atmosphere for some scenes inside a room. The film’s music by Alexandre Desplat is tremendous for its rich and intricate music score filled with unique brass and string arrangements with elements of melodic string pieces and usage of harmoniums as well as piano solos performed by Jean-Yves Thibaudet while music supervisor Randall Poster cultivates a soundtrack that features score pieces by Georges Delerue and Ennio Morricone as well as music from Grace Jones, Charles Aznavour, the Swingle Sisters, Chantal Goya, Gene Austin with Candy and Coco, Gus Viseur, and Jarvis Cocker as a French singer named Tip-Top.

The casting by Douglas Aibel, Antoinette Boulat, and Jina Jay is marvelous as it feature some notable small roles and appearances in the different sections of the film. In the roles of the film’s magazine staff, there’s Anjelica Bette Fellini as a proofreader for the magazine, Wally Wolodarsky as a writer for the magazine who has finished an article, Pablo Pauly as a waiter at a café in the same building as the magazine is at, Griffin Dunne as the magazine’s legal advisor, Fisher Stevens as the magazine story editor, Jason Schwartzman as the magazine cartoonist Hermes Jones, and Elisabeth Moss as the magazine’s copy editor Alumna. From The Concrete Masterpiece, the small performances from Morgane Polanski as a girlfriend of the young Rosenthaler, Felix Moati as the head caterer at the big event, Denis Menochet as a prison guard, Henry Winkler and Bob Balaban in their respective roles as Cadazio’s uncles in Joe and Nick, and Tony Revolori as the young Rosenthaler are a joy to watch.

From Revisions to a Manifesto, the performances of Rupert Friend, Alex Lawther, Toheeb Jimoh, and Tom Hudson as stage actors in a play, Guillaume Gallienne and Cecile de France as Zeffirelli’s parents, Mohamed Belhadjine as a student named Mitch-Mitch, and Christoph Waltz as a family friend of Zeffirelli in Paul Duval are fun to watch with Waltz being the stand-out. From The Private Dining Room of the Police Commissioner, the performances from Mauricette Coudivat as Gigi’s mother, Hippolyte Girardot as the commissioner’s friend who used to work for the police, Saoirse Ronan as a drug-addicted showgirl who befriends Gigi, and Edward Norton as a kidnapper who is also a chauffeur for the underworld. In the roles of the journalists who tell these respective stories, Owen Wilson, Tilda Swinton, Frances McDormand, and Jeffrey Wright are brilliant in their respective roles as Herbsaint Sazerac, J.K.L. Berensen, Lucinda Kremetz, and Roebuck Wright as they’re all based on real writers from The New Yorker with Wilson providing a calm persona to his character while Swinton and McDormand both provide low-key humor to their roles and Wright brings a charisma a gay writer.

Bill Murray is fantastic as the magazine editor-in-chief Arthur Howitzer Jr. who is based on The New Yorker co-founder Harold Ross as a man who doesn’t like anyone crying in his office while is also wondering about all of the things his writers does but is also someone that knows talent. The quartet of Benicio del Toro, Adrien Brody, Lea Seydoux, and Lois Smith are amazing in their respective roles as the artist Moses Rosenthaler, the art dealer Julien Cadazio, the prison guard/muse Simone, and the art collector Upshur “Maw” Clampette with del Toro providing a gruff persona to his role while Brody is this comical man determined to get rich. Seydoux’s performance is definitely the best in the segment as someone who is the embodiment of discipline including the way she poses nude in certain ways as well as being Rosenthaler’s greatest motivator. Smith’s small performance as Clampette is full of humor but also someone who understands great art.

Timothee Chalamet and Lyna Khoudri are excellent in their respective roles as student activists Zeffirelli and Juliette with the former being the leader of a revolutionary who would befriend Kremetz who gives him ideas while the latter is a woman who is suspicious over Kremetz yet has feelings for Zeffirelli. The incredible performances of Liev Schreiber, Mathieu Almaric, Stephen Park, Willem Dafoe and Winston Ait Hellal in their respective roles as the TV talk show host, the police commissioner, the chef Nescaffier, the underworld accountant Abacus, and the commissioner’s son Gigi with Schreiber providing some wit in a role inspired by Dick Cavett while Almaric and Park both provide some humor in their respective roles with Park being the most restrained as a cook who makes great recipes. Dafoe provides humor as this accountant who is aware he’s in deep shit but is also hungry for food while Hellal brings a restraint to a kid who is quite intelligent but also knows Morse code.

The French Dispatch is a marvelous film from Wes Anderson. Featuring a great ensemble cast, dazzling visuals, incredible art direction, and an exhilarating music soundtrack. It is a film that explores the world of journalism as a magazine publishes its final issues that is filled with wonderful stories set in a small town in France. In the end, The French Dispatch is a remarkable film from Wes Anderson.

Wes Anderson Films: Bottle Rocket - Rushmore - The Royal Tenenbaums - The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou - Hotel Chevalier - The Darjeeling Limited - Fantastic Mr. Fox - Moonrise Kingdom - Castello Cavalcanti - The Grand Budapest Hotel - Isle of Dogs - (Asteroid City) – (The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar) - The Auteurs #8: Wes Anderson

Wes Anderson Film Soundtracks: Bottle Rocket - Rushmore - The Royal Tenenbaums - The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou - Seu Jorge-The Life Aquatic Studio Sessions - The Darjeeling Limited - Fantastic Mr. Fox - (Moonrise Kingdom) – (The Grand Budapest Hotel) – (Isle of Dogs) – (The French Dispatch) - (Asteroid City) - (The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar)

© thevoid99 2022


Brittani Burnham said...

I liked this movie when I saw it, but I instantly forgot about it a few weeks later. It was only after the Oscar noms came out and some people complained this missed production design that I was like "Oh yeah, that happened."

SJHoneywell said...

You're a lot nicer to this than I was. I felt like Wes Anderson was trying to excise whatever is in him that makes his films like that all at once.

After this, I'm off Wes Anderson for at least six months.

thevoid99 said...

@Brittani-I don't think this is one of Anderson's best films but I did enjoy it as I will always love the work his art directing team does as they always create killer sets.

@SJHoneywell-Well, he's got another film coming likely next year. Yeah, this isn't one of my favorite films of his but I did have fun watching it though it kills me that I didn't see it in the theaters.

keith71_98 said...

This was one (like all Wes Anderson films) that I liked more a second time through. Still, some segments are better than others, but how can you not love Wes Anderson doing his thing? He's a true original.

thevoid99 said...

@keith71_98-I know. It's not a great film but it has all of the things about Wes that I love. I can't wait for his next 2 features.