It’s fair to say that Wes Anderson is one of the most idiosyncratic directors working today. No matter what genre or medium he’s working in, the second you see any frame of his films, you know that it’s a Wes Anderson film. With The French Dispatch, he may have made his most Wes Anderson-y film yet and, whilst there are a few issues, this is a very entertaining film.
The film takes the form of a copy of The French Dispatch, an offshoot of a newspaper from Kansas, with the film being divided into a travelogue of the town the magazine is based in (Ennui-su-Blasé) and three articles from the journalists of the magazine. These articles show the work of an artist in prison for murder, with his guard as his muse, a student revolution and the kidnapping of the son of the police commissioner, which ends up involving his private chef. Now this is the first Wes Anderson film to be done as an anthology film, but his style works really well for this medium. This does lead to some interesting pacing though as it is not paced as a film but as a magazine. This does work in helping to set the mood for the film, and the travelogue opening is effective in setting up the world of Ennui-su-Blasé, allowing the audience to have a strong point of reference for the rest of the film. Anthology films live and die on the strength of the stories though and this film is a bit of a mixed bag. The first and third ones are excellent, bringing in themes of the nature of art and how it is commodified, the relationship between mental health and artist vision, the power of food (both positive and negative) and the power of the written word. The second story though I found to be a mixed bag, being easily the weakest part of the film. The themes in this section don’t mesh as well as in the first and third, and whilst there are some good dramatic moments, this is the part of the film where the tone doesn’t work as well and the plots points feel a bit underdeveloped. On the whole though, it does work, with the great humour of the film being one of the key reasons why it works so well. There’s also a level of respect towards journalism that works well in the film, helping to provide a core to the film and a strong narrative throughline.
The performances meanwhile are exactly what you’d expect from a Wes Anderson film. Most people you’d expect to see in a Wes Anderson film crop in, with Bill Murray in particular being a highlight, his attitude and mannerisms being perfect for the editor of the magazine and he does a good job in adding to the weight of the film. Of those who hadn’t worked with Wes Anderson before, Timothee Chalamet is a perfect fit for his style and is the highlight of the second story, Jeffrey Wright’s voice adds a lot of power to his role in the third story and Benicio del Toro is a strong presence in the first story. Of the other cast members, Lea Seydoux, Stephen Park and Adrien Brody are highlights, all working on top form, all of them adding to the weight of the film.
The technical elements of the film are as interesting as you’d expect from a Wes Anderson film. The production design is excellent, as per usual, with the travelogue at the start of the film being an excellent showcase of the production design and building the world of the film, each section of the film having a unique feel, aided by the different designs for each environment. The way Anderson uses colour is also fascinating. The majority of the film is presented in black and white with colour used sparingly at key points, such as showing the art in the first story or the food in the third. This technique works well in giving the audience an understanding of what the experiences of the characters would have been like. It also helps that Anderson’s style, in terms of camera movements and cinematography (working well with DP Robert Yeoman) is just as effective in black and white as in colour. There’s also an interesting use of animation near the end of the film, being 2D animation rather than the stop-motion Anderson is more used to. This style though is a perfect fit for the tone of the film, this section of the film feeling right at home in a Tintin story.
Overall, it’s clear that The French Dispatch will not create any new converts to Wes Anderson. This is a film that will clearly appeal to fans of his and won’t really win over newcomers. Whilst there are some issues with the film, mainly the comparatively weak second story, this is still an entertaining and frequently hilarious film, filled with the style you come to expect from Wes Anderson.
My Rating: 4/5