The French Dispatch Review – A beautiful but hollow movie

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The French Dispatch Review - A beautiful but hollow movie

Everything you think of once you consider a Wes Anderson movie surely applies to The French Dispatch. Careful attention to detail, streamlined directing and editing, unique dialogues, a hard and fast color palette, and support for an idealized version of the past are ubiquitous. And yet Anderson seems to have taken it too far because the anthology film, written and directed by the author, may be a clear case of favor over substance. 

While it’s as visually charming as any Anderson movie, it sounds hollow under its veneer. The story of Anderson, Roman Coppola, Hugo Guinness, and Jason Schwartzman has been described as a “love letter to journalists.” Arthur Howitzer Jr. (Bill Murray) is the editor of The French Dispatch, a world branch of the Kansas Evening Sun. Howitzer visited France when he was young and never returned to his native land; Instead, he “brought the planet to Kansas” through the stories published in his magazine.

“The French Dispatch” is clearly inspired by “The New Yorker”, but is about the fictional French town of EnnuisurBlasé. (“Ennui” means “boredom”, which sadly applies to parts of this movie). A number of the people and events have supported the reality, like the student occupation protests of May ’68. The film is split into four chapters, each of which tells a special story for the magazine. 

“The Cycling Reporter” is the shortest of the four vignettes and serves more as an introduction to the planet of cinema than as a stand-alone story. Herbsaint Sazerac (Owen Wilson) speaks to the camera as he rides Ennui on his bike. This section also uses tons of still images, another feature of the film. It also contains small pauses. Howitzer works together with his writers on his stories and shows how he messes them up compared to everyone else at the magazine headquarters.

The first true story is “The Concrete Masterpiece”, the story of an imprisoned artist (Benecio del Toro), his jailer muse (Léa Seydoux), and therefore the trader (Adrien Brody) determined to make their work famous. Tilda Swinton adds more context to the story by cutting between her presentation of the artist and therefore the story itself. This section also highlights the somewhat confusing mixture of color and black and white. 

Even more confusing, the movie occasionally slips into French, with highly stylized English subtitles. The foremost compelling chapter is “Reviews of a Manifesto”, which documents the connection between a reporter (Frances McDormand) and a young revolutionary (Timothée Chalamet) while reporting on student protests. McDormand’s heavily cropped lines and no-nonsense manners contrast perfectly with Chalamets’ carefree charm and naivete.

“The Private Dining Room”, the last part, follows a food journalist (Jeffrey Wright) who reports on a police chef (Stephen Park) but is caught kidnapping the son of a police inspector and tries to catch him. Return. Despite Wright’s addictive acting and a few fascinating artistic choices, this section may be a disappointment and underscores Anderson’s inability to make compelling characters in such a brief amount of time. 

The French Dispatch is basically great, with a gorgeous score by Alexandre Desplat and crowd-pleasing cinematography by Robert Yeoman. For instance, Saoirse Ronan’s eyes (yes, they’re within the movie too, very briefly) are often seen particularly well through a door grille. Despite being so charmingly stylized, her subdued color palette and frequent use of black and white rob her of a number of the escapist fantasies of a number of Anderson’s other films.

Despite its beauty, the film doesn’t tell compelling stories or create characters that audiences can bond with. Most of the cast members do not have enough time to form an enduring impression, although for several students of Anderson’s previous films it’s a reunion with many new faces. Willem Dafoe, Elizabeth Moss, Anjelica Huston, and Edward Norton perform, but few have enough time for viewers to recollect their character names. 

The French Dispatch may be a technical marvel and fans of Anderson’s style will find it in it. But the actors are underused and therefore the anthology format keeps us from getting too on the brink of the characters. Howitzer features a check-in in his office that warns, “Don’t cry,” but with such a hard-to-link film, there is no risk of it happening.

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