Anderson delights again with quirky ‘French Dispatch’

Henry Schutt
Staff Writer

“The French Dispatch,” is a charming comedy drama about a tight-knit magazine staff and their stories. The magazine is shutting down and the movie focuses on the final stories being run. There’s four stories in the magazine but one is much shorter and not something I would consider to be a main one.

This movie was written and directed by Wes Anderson who is known for his somewhat absurd style. The movie has plenty of narration and unusual angles. The worlds Anderson creates are exaggerated and somewhat cartoonish. It’s very much more art-y than many other movies that have come out recently.

The fictional magazine portrayed in the film is largely inspired by “The New Yorker,” and that’s pretty apparent. The magazine is headed by the editor Arthur Howitzer Jr. who is played by Bill Murray, one of many returning faces from previous Anderson movies. He isn’t seen much throughout the film but when he is, he’s shown to be a caring yet stoic character. Howitzer is written perfectly to hold everyone together, and while he gives his opinions on articles, he almost never asks them to alter their work.

This first short not-so-main story is “The Cycling Reporter” which is written by the character Herbsaint Sazerac, played by Owen Wilson who is one of many Anderson alumni. His story is a humorous and quaint feature on a small fictional town named Ennui. As it is the shortest of the bunch, there isn’t much to say except it is the only story fully in color.

Since I brought it up, I should elaborate for those unfamiliar with Wes Anderson’s previous work, such as “The Royal Tenenbaums,” “The Darjeeling Unlimited,” but more so, “The Grand Budapest Hotel.” Anderson is unafraid to alter aspect ratio and color throughout his films. Every change is carefully thought out and has a motive behind it. It’s part of what makes his work feel more artistic than many other directors and writers out there. For this film, the aspect ratio for the majority of the movie is filmed in 1:37:1, which is just a little wider than that classic black and white look. This created an era appropriate look which I think aided the storytelling.

When it comes to color, “The Concrete Masterpiece,” the first of the actual three main stories that are told, has very little. This is about a tortured prison artist and his love for one of the guards. The only color is when we see what is important: the art. This story stars Benicio Del Toro as Moses Rosenthaler, the artist. I almost didn’t recognize Del Toro in this as his appearance is quite far from the usual, and his performance is very unemotive. I assure you however, that’s how the character is meant to be. This article’s author is played by Tilda Swinton, another Anderson alum. While the others interact with the story, she seems much more of an outsider, and is seen notably less. Also, fair warning, there is a decent amount of nudity throughout this portion.

“Revisions to a Manifesto,” the second article, is written by Luicindia Kremetz, played by Frances McDormand. Her story is about Zeffirelli, the self-appointed leader of a movement that is, from what I can tell, protesting because they can. Zeffirelli is an angsty rebellious teen played by Timothee Chalamet. I didn’t enjoy this story as much, I felt it dragged its feet a little. The score for this is very much French romance which I may be somewhat irrationally biased against.

The third and favorite article is “The Private Dining Room of the Police Commissioner.” The author for this one is Roebuck Wright who is, conveniently, played by Jeffery Wright. Roebuck is assigned to the food portion of the magazine and is meant to be doing a feature on the chef of the police commissioner. The dinner goes awry and he gets thrown into a much more entertaining adventure. There’s also a phenomenal minute and a half long single take shot that I am astounded they pulled off, especially with the massive film cameras used in the film.

“The French Dispatch” feels similar “The Grand Budapest Hotel.” I think the biggest similarity is this sense of caricature. The characters are all exaggerated enough to feel whimsical but not so much that they feel stuck in that. There’s a seriousness behind the silliness. Which, while oxymoronic, is the only way I can find to describe it.

The movie’s outlandish nature may deter some, but that’s what sets Wes Anderson apart from so many others. Anderson creates a feeling of familiarity with his movies that makes me feel nostalgic regardless of whether it’s my first time or twentieth time watching. Art can tell a story, and Anderson is an amazing artist. He uses film as his medium of choice and creates pieces that stand out amongst a sea of other options.

As of lately, few movies truly leave me wanting more, but “The French Dispatch” is delightful, and while maybe not something that will go on to win awards. It’s something that I will certainly be watching again.

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