The subversive exploration of everyday headlines
The French Dispatch is a film that details the final issue of the popular in-universe French newspaper of the same name after it’s editor in Chief Arthur Howitzer Jr played by frequent Wes Anderson collaborator Bill Murray passes away and takes his publication with him. What follows is the many columns or sections in the newspaper’s decisive edition and the fascinating stories that inhabit Wes Anderson’s politically and culturally charged world, each of which is contextualised in the magazine’s featurettes.
Ranging from the aptly named ‘The Cycling Reporter’ a bicycle tour of Ennui France; the central setting for the film courtesy of Owen Wilson’s Herbsaint Sazerac in which he gives a detailed documentary of the history surrounding the many alleyways, street paths and monuments of local iconography that make the city the bizarre canvas Anderson will go onto paint on with the subsequent stories. Painting the picture of an abstract wonderland that exists in both the dilapidated remnants of it’s past as well as the postmodernism architecture that has been built over it.
To a retelling of the curious tale surrounding Benicio Del Toro’s psychotic incarcerated painter Moses Rosenthaler and his chance encounter with the persuasive art collector/ tax fraudster Juilan Cadazio played by Adrian Brody all conferred to us in reporter J. K. L Berensen’s article and conference titled ‘the concrete masterpiece’. A story full of romance, betrayal and artistic struggle, full of exaggerated caricatures and rich dynamics, examining the strange characters that create and inhabit the unconforming and ever changing world of contemporary art.
The politics and poetry section or ‘revisions of a manifesto’ written by Frances McDormant’s Lucinda Krementz which documents a group of students’ rebellion against the preceding generation’s outdated policies and ideology. A coming of age introspective parodying political extremes with the passionate yet ill-equipped or just horribly guided youth led by Timothée Clamamet’s Zeffirelli B.
Or how about the tastes and smells section. What at first glance sounds like the most tedious of the stories subverts its genre’s conventional offerings and diverts into the most action oriented of the 3 main stories titled ‘The Private Dining Room of the Police Commissioner’. A hostage situation turned police chase, incarceration negotiations, twilight cloaked hot air balloon escapes and poisonings; both successful and some foiled by a distaste of radishes. All of which is told to us in an interview from Jeremy Wright’s eidetic reporter Roebuck Wright as he recounts his experience of the events on a popular radio show.
This multifaceted rabbit hole of peculiarities culminates in the post mortem commerarence, ‘The obituary’ which all the writers we’ve encountered along the way collaborate on in memory of their late superior and friend, resoutly bringing the film and it’s playbook structure to a satisfying emotional full stop. Each of the film’s 3 core stories weave a complex and intricate narrative of character and spectacle that never slows down or compromises in what is arguably Andersons most impressive screenplay yet. A story that never sacrifices story for style, balancing Wes’s dollhouse vision with off the wall comedy, characters, ideas and settings.
Wes Anderson has always been renowned for his unique and rich filmmaking style. This is a style that I believed he had perfected, I thought that his mastery of his individual approach, his ‘dollhouse filmmaking’ had reached its apex in his 2014 film The Grand Budapest Hotel. I couldn’t see a situation where Anderson would be able to top himself and refine his already immaculate blend of artistry, vision and technical mastery, but in a welcomed turn of events Anderson delivers an experience that I can confidently say is his most impressive showing to date from a filmmaking standpoint. Anderson uses the screen like a playground, challenging our preconceived notions of filmmaking in its structure and confident visual stylings. The sets move to the uncertain rhythm or demands of the story, colour and aspect ratio grows and shrink in an instant, sparks fly, buildings dissolve into the adjacent wings of the screen, the very world around the characters bend and twist to the rules of the paragraphs that the journalists author.
I would be remiss not to mention Alexandre Desplat’s original soundtrack. Perfectly melancholic, awe inspiring and reflective in all the right places.
After sitting through the French Dispatch it’s impossible not to gain a new level of appreciation for Wes’s brilliance as a script writer. Like most aspects of his film it’s something he has his own distinct mastery over, however with French Dispatch it truly feels like a herculean feat that he was able to pull it off as expertly as he did with fellow co-writers Jason Schwartzman, Roman Coppola and Hugo Guinness. Every line of dialogue, interaction, joke or piece of insight from the omnipotent narrators is written immaculately. Every scene, stanza is poetic and perfect in it’s execution. Only on multiple rewatches will you be able to fully grasp the scope and detail of the French Dispatch. All the jokes, details and sentimentalities that effortlessly unfold from scene to scene.
The French Dispatch is a film that views the world and it’s many commodities through the lens of a newspaper and it’s many columns. The last newspaper of the most acclaimed newspaper Wes Anderson could imagine. A newspaper that gives us a subversive glimpse into the world of fine arts and artists, politics, poetry and the tastes and the smells. The French Dispatch aims to subvert our understanding of the world around us, it portrays the world as an eccentric, abstract gallery of ideas, people and stories, shedding light on the oddballs and abnormalities that make the world worth reading about. The French Dispatch is a newspaper, something we’re all accustomed to. A way we view the world through on a daily basis. However like the poison Nescaffier ingested the French Dispatch is the new, the spectacular, the feeling of curiosity and rediscovery of passion that we live our lives searching for. Both as a film and a newspaper the French dispatch is a looking glass of wonder that dares us to gaze through its peculiar lens and observe the people, the places, the arts, the artists, the politics, the poetry, the tastes and the smells in the juvenile perspective that we lose the more accustomed we come to our routines, a perspective that still believes the world can surprise despite how familiar we believe ourselves to be with our passions and the stories we read about in tabloids. Nescaffier’s words and The French dispatch as a whole represent a brilliantly optimistic and pure idea. That no matter the effect time has on our bodies and the places we visit, there’s always more to see, read, watch and discover in the world around us. Wes Anderson at his most profound and sentimental. It’s artistic, it’s spectacular, it’s masterful, it’s artistic, political, it’s poetic, it stimulates the senses and it’s emotionally revenant in a way Wes Anderson has never been before.