“The French Dispatch” may be the most Wes Anderson that Wes Anderson has ever Wes Andersoned—and all for the right reasons.
As he always does, Wes Anderson creates a world that is at once familiar and foreign in “The French Dispatch”. Set in the imaginary French town Ennui-sur-Blasé, “The French Dispatch” visualizes wonderfully vivid color palettes and costumes, elaborate outlandish set design, retro aesthetic, with a bunch of character ensembles that are as miscellaneous as the color palettes. Underneath the whimsical and picturesque visuals, Anderson delves into a collection of dysfunctional life stories while tapping into the realms of nostalgia and melancholy. Those are his key auteur signatures. While many find his cinematic formula a humdrum work, he values the equilibrium between the visual style and the substance in “The French Dispatch”.
Another expected backlash against his unique style of filmmaking is the emotional repression by his characters. They are admirably complex and fun but lack dynamic range. Perhaps there’s a limitation or restraint in which his characters wrestle with the capacity to articulately, passionately, profoundly, and sensitively elicit and skillfully respond to feelings. But this doesn’t necessarily make them emotionally detached. They speak in a flat, dry, lackluster nature, frequently expressionless but never emotionless. In “The French Dispatch” genuine emotions are revealed in the most unlikely circumstances. Sometimes through rebellion. Frequently through crime. This adds to the overall artiness of his work.
The titular The French Dispatch is a made-up weekly magazine published around the 20th century and a form of Anderson’s fetishistic obsession with printed magazines. It chronicles the heyday of its journalists who put together the magazine’s final issue in anthology stories, which are loosely inspired by The New Yorker and in general pay homage to journalism.
Illustration: The New Yorker
Bill Murray’s character, Arthur Howitzer Jr., who imposes no-crying policy in his office, stands for the New Yorker’s founding editor Harold Ross. Adrien Brody’s Julian Cadazio, the controversial British art dealer, is based on Lord Duveen, a millionaire who believed art was more important than money. Jeffrey Wright’s Roebuck Wright, a homosexual food journalist, is an amalgamation of author James Baldwin and New Yorker writer A.J. Liebling. Tilda Swinton’s art critic and writer J.K.L. Berensen is a tribute to the art lecturer Rosamond Bernier. Frances McDormand’s segment (alongside Timothée Chalamet) is modeled on Mavis Gallant’s Two-Part September 1968 article “The Events in May: A Paris Notebook” that covered worker and student demonstrations in various parts of Paris. And Owen Wilson’s travel writer Herbsaint Sazerac captures the quintessence of Ennui-sur-Blasé much like the nonfiction writer Joseph Mitchell.
An avid New Yorker fan since teenagehood, Anderson amasses a staggering collection of the magazine issues dating back to the 1940s. That enduring love is the groundwork to Anderson as science fiction is to Steven Spielberg. As a result, “The French Dispatch” leaves viewers a great sense of reading an issue of a New York magazine; visually striking cover images, page numbers, and cartoonish illustrations. In a recent interview with the magazine itself, Anderson acknowledges, “I found myself reading various writers’ accounts of life at The New Yorker—Brendan Gill, James Thurber, Ben Yagoda—and I got caught up in the whole aura of the thing.”
And so did I.
First viewing of “The French Dispatch” gave me a cinematic experience of what it means to ‘read’ a film as an actual magazine. As a magazine fanboy myself, I find it worth ‘reading every page’.
“The French Dispatch” is available on VOD on December 14.