Preserving the Narrative – The French Dispatch (2021)

Wes Anderson is an absolute master of his craft and The French Dispatch is a wildly entertaining and exceptionally strange adventure that showcases all his remarkable filmmaking techniques, his incredibly rich attention to detail, and his one-of-a-kind style and humor.

Anderson goes over the final scene of the first story with Benicio Del Toro

Set in a fictional French town, the story centers around the office and journalists of a fictional American publication during the post-WWII 20th century. Consisting of four main parts, the film focuses on the retelling of three articles from the publication’s history as part of an obituary for the paper’s editor.

That may be an oversimplification but if you’ve seen the film, you’ll understand. However, the stories that are told were selected for their deep narrative style and subject matter as they best represented the late editor’s vision for the direction of his publication. I won’t go into detail on each of those individually but it may be more digestible if you know that going in (for those who haven’t seen it).

Bill Murray plays the editor of The French Dispatch, Arthur Howitzer Jr., whose death sets the events of the film in motion.

The story was conceived by Anderson, Roman Coppola, Hugo Guinness, and Jason Schwartzman out of fondness for The New Yorker, and several of the characters and stories in the film are based on actual stories from the magazine. 

Anderson has always had a dialogue-rich storytelling style which lends itself to his unique and subtly hilarious sense of humor. His scripts aren’t driven by punchlines and he’ll write these incredibly funny moments where the deadpan delivery from the characters gives the humor a soft landing. Maybe that’s a weird way to describe it, but it allows me to appreciate his sense of humor without feeling beholden to the trappings of a traditional comedy structure. He’s brilliant in that way and that method allows the actors more range to perform the material in a way that lines up with their visions of the characters. 

The cast was so loaded, you can’t even fit everyone in the frame

In this case, those actors are essentially all of his favorite collaborators, including Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody, Schwartzman, Tilda Swinton, and Frances McDormand…to name a few. The rest of the cast is fantastic as well and loaded with top-tier talent including Willem Dafoe, Edward Norton, Saoirse Ronan, and Elizabeth Moss. It says a lot about the kind of person and filmmaker Anderson is that all these highly sought-after performers came together for this project, even though it was mostly for small parts. 

Black and white was just another layer of visual storytelling Anderson utilized

One of the things that always identifies a Wes Anderson film is its unique visual style and Adam Stockhausen’s production design was pitch-perfect for this. The set design is exceptional and one scene, in particular, highlights the malleability and fluidity of the Le Sans Blague Café set as it moves during the scene to adjust to the performers and allow the cameras to move fluidly through the scene. Plus, no Wes Anderson movie would be complete without the use of miniatures, and he even mixed in some animation and stop motion just because he can and Robert D. Yeoman’s cinematography captures it all brilliantly. Then you have 2-time Oscar-winning composer and frequent collaborator Alexandre Desplat, who won one of those Oscars for his work on Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel, working his magic and it all adds up to one of the year’s very best films. 

This is just an example of the extraordinary set design and decoration seen throughout the film.

If you could only watch one film released in 2021, you wouldn’t be making a bad choice with this. Anderson has been knocking on the door of his first Academy Award for almost 20-years and, while the hardware clearly doesn’t define him as a filmmaker, I can see this one being in the conversation for a number of the big awards at the end of the year. 

Recommendation: This is on the must-see list for 2021 and Wes Anderson fans will rejoice because it’ll be especially rewarding to those who have followed his career, but it’s bursting with so much creativity that it’s the kind of film that could inspire a new generation of fans.

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