December 1, 2021

The French Dispatch Review: Unhindered Anderson – three reviews from three stories

After a year of waiting, Wes Anderson’s new canvas of lyrical sensation has burst, in unmistakably flamboyant style, onto our screens. Filled with Anderson’s classic precision camera work, a raucous and eventful score, and more rectilinear shots than one would like to imagine, the image is not just a masterful ode to print journalism, but a gargantuan demonstration of cinematic complexity… or is it?

The French dispatch begins in the office of Arthur Howitzer Jr (Bill Murray), the famous editor of the New York newspaper The French dispatch. Armed with his journalistic advice “just try to make it look like you wrote it that way on purpose”, the public follows their team of trusted journalists in the three investigative reports (four if you include the report much more. short of Owen Wilson in the first “pages”) which constitute the final edition of the article.

Anderson seems to capture a wonderful impression of France, both stereotypical, as if he had never visited, but also quite accurate, the winding streets and the awesome sense of place. Undeniably a lot of fun, it’s fantastically marked, wonderfully played, and unmistakably eccentrically aesthetic.

The French Dispatch trailer

However, claims that this is the most Wes Anderson movie of his career may be unfounded.

Behind his iconic visual experiences hides sentimentality and a touching human quality. More than anything, Anderson’s “style” is to write rich, emotionally sympathetic characters in some of the most obnoxious people. Monsieur Gustave in The Grand Hotel Budapest comes to mind. Haughty and pretentious, Anderson puts forward the paternal side of the man under his veneer of self-proclaimed grandiloquence.

Through its three distinct stories, The French Dispatch offers nothing of this touching depth. What is arguably the foundation of Anderson’s distinct style, the very thing that allows him to execute his eccentricity to the extreme, is the one thing missing in this new entry. And it shows. The stylized decor, the frank humor so careful not to recognize itself as funny, the wild charisma of its starry protagonists. It’s all there, but none of it makes sense. The French dispatch doesn’t give us enough time to bond with its main characters, and although it does encourage fleeting moments of affinity, the emotional gravity of its other images is conspicuously lost.

The French Dispatch is so a strange movie, neither here nor there, not quite true not quite fantastic. As is common in these films, it celebrates loss, a kind of old glory that can only be achieved through this unique style of directing. A middle of stories leads to a middle of opinions. Whatever you think of Anderson, here are three reviews of the top three stories for you to enjoy!

The masterpiece of concrete

The first installment in The French dispatch

Written by William Taylor.

In the first article, titled The masterpiece of concrete, JKL Berenson (Tilda Swinton) looks back on his time with infamous artist Moses Rosenthaler (Benicio del Toro).

Incarcerated for the murder of two men in a bar, Rosenthaler loses his passion for the arts, before meeting Simone, a prison guard with whom he quickly falls in love. Inspired once again to pick up the brush, Rosenthaler paints the abstract piece Simone, nude, Cell Block J. Hobby Room. Inmate and art dealer Julian Cadazio (Adrian Brody) soon convinces the artist to sell the piece and works to gain fame and recognition for the tortured artist in the outside world. However, Rosenthaler’s stubbornness and refusal to produce art soon caused problems for both men.

Photo: Concrete, by Astrid Westvang @ Flickr

The masterpiece of concrete explores the problems created when art is monopolized, and the effect that pressure can have on an artist, and the art they produce. Cadazio’s opinion of Rosenthaler’s art varies widely depending on how much money he thinks he can make from it. While fun to watch, it seems possible that Anderson could comment on his own “work of art.” That art is personal and loses its meaning when it is thus capitalized, is at the heart of this episode.

The French dispatch reaches new heights of symmetry and color contrast. Effortless transitions from Anderson’s usual vivid color scheme to black and white show a contrast that reflects the dark past and colorful present of French cities. The episode oscillates between these two contrasting color schemes, allowing us to see both the vibrant color of Rosenthaler’s art but also the figurative forms once the image is placed in grayscale.

Wes Anderson clearly favors certain actors, with The French dispatch not being different. Benicio del Toro gives a wonderful performance as artist Rosenthaler, bringing depth to the mysterious character while Adrian Brody brings an element of comedy to the play. Each actor matches his role as if it had been written for him.

However, the movie and episode can be particularly difficult to follow at times due to their density. Anderson is famous for his dialogue-rich, yet daringly visual storytelling, though in this edition of his repertoire he may have gone too far. I think this film requires a lot of viewing to be fully appreciated.

The masterpiece of concrete is hilarious and existential and will leave you thinking about the meaning of art and the dark side of artistic fame, or just make you laugh.

Revisions of a manifesto

The second installment

Written by Pip Carew

The second thumbnail of Wes Anderson’s anthology, Revisions of a manifesto, follows a student uprising in the fictional French town of Ennui sur-Blasé. Frances McDormand’s stoic journalist Lucinda Krementz is dispatched to investigate the root of student angst and in doing so finds herself embroiled in their passionate leader and chess player Zeffirelli (Timothée Chalamet). What follows is a chaotic, poetic, and at times melancholy tale of the affiliation between love and politics.

Anderson has often been criticized for prioritizing style over substance and it is certainly a fictionalized vision of a world in which conflict can be resolved through a game of chess. While the story explores some deeper themes of youthful loneliness and temporality in the juxtaposed characters of Krementz and Zeffirelli, it never quite manages to penetrate below the surface. Instead of, Revisions of a manifesto exists as a light satire of student activism and the myth of journalistic integrity.

Photo: King Strategy Game, Chess and Chess Game, Max Pixel

Among the usual menagerie of familiar faces is Timothée Chalamet, who stands up to McDormand (awesome, as always) as charismatic student Zeffirelli. Chalamet is almost custom built for the universe of Wes Anderson, with an original mustache and hair to rival the guy from Eraser. Zeferelli wouldn’t look out of place in the North Quarter. He spends most of his screen time indulging in eccentric hobbies such as smoking and writing a poetic manifesto on a typewriter in a French cafe during a revolution. Standard Anderson.

Zeffirelli and his peers are pretentious in a particularly fun way when you’re only nineteen. Anderson captures this commitment to a cause in a frantic, tongue-in-cheek script which, while he never outwardly pokes fun at his young characters for their political naivety, is very aware of their youth. After all, the students to do love to protest and there is a certain nobility in wanting to make changes in your surroundings, the intensity of which seems to fade with age.

The most fascinating aspect of Revisions of a manifesto is undoubtedly the Chinese doll structure that Anderson implements. The structure of a story within a story (and at one point, a play within a story within a story) is a testament to Anderson’s ability as an author to delicately layer stories on top of each other. The result? A rich and stylistically quirky tale with a host of renowned actors (watch the brief appearance of Christoph Waltz) dedicated to youthful optimism.

The police commissioner’s private room

The third and final installment

Written by Giorgia Ravera

The colorful mosaic of lives depicted in The French dispatch poses its last characteristic with the sticker The police commissioner’s private dining room. We follow the memories of Roebuck Wright (Jeffrey Wright), a food writer who has the ability to recall with pinpoint accuracy every line of every piece he has ever written. The play begins with the expedient of a live interview with a TV presenter as the plot quickly unfolds in the story of Policeman / Chief Lt. Nescaffier, who saves the son of the Police Commissioner from a gang. of criminals who kidnapped him.

Photo: Fiery Woks, by Alpha @ Flickr

Ranked among one of the best cinematic and thematic works of Anderson’s 25-year career, the latest story reaches the pinnacle of cleverly constructed visual experimentalism over the course of the film. Through colorful and black-and-white image transpositions, changes in aspect ratio, shifts to animated and live-action scenes, and dynamic camera movements, the episode is a chaotic wonder.

The sticker is also surprisingly non-Anderson at times. At points of tension, the director abandons the use of wide lenses and deep focus to convey a sense of the characters’ psychological isolation from the frantic events happening around them.

The episode presents two different narrative types: the kidnapping and comical (and almost grotesque) rescue of the commissioner’s son and the final sobering message delivered by Nescaffier, about his desire to belong. This last piece is without a doubt the most important in all of history. While enveloping it in a thoughtful and anti-climatic way, it also evokes a slightly soft morale. We cannot help but agree with Arthur Howitzer, editor-in-chief of The French dispatch, when he suggests to Roebuck Wright that he should keep it as a touching end to his article: that’s, hands down, the most engaging part of it.


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