The French Dispatch

The French Dispatch

The second I saw Rosenthaler's frescoes removed to Maw Clampette's Kansas museum, I was reminded of Keith Haring's Grace House mural, sliced from its 85-foot stairwell (the building soon to be demolished) and auctioned off in 13 pieces, on display in Denver. They have in common their high plains exhibition, which follows from their violent disarticulation from context, which in ordinary circumstances bestows meaning and so artfulness. Put another way, art isn't of its context, art is its context, so when it's forcibly removed it becomes something less than the sum of its parts. Material, technique, curatorial vim, yes, but not art. “At least the thing exists so it can be studied,” says the saddened Haring Foundation director. In the case of Rosenthaler the frescoes, the maddeningly beautiful walls of his prison, become -- if not kitsch -- a portal to kitsch. (In the same way as "Wouldn't It Be Nice?" by the Beach Boys, inviting a sentiment about a sentiment about an experience.) But Anderson's movie is too precious and specific to sustain such charges itself. All whimsy and no caprice, an inversion of James Harriot's rural veterinary episodes, which are of course all caprice and no whimsy, though both qualify as "just so" stories.

I am endlessly fascinated by the displacement of the sexual onto the French. It's everywhere, when you look for it. The day before I saw this movie I read about a "French pill" (marketed by an abortionist) and a "French circus" ("an orgy of some sort") in a book of 19th century history, and the "French underground" sought by a Continental pianist, come to Cairo in search of gay nightlife. Famous orphan James Bond's parents are thee stodgy Andrew Bond and Monique Delacroix Bond, presumably smoking a Gauloise in her grave. So the French Dispatch is not about French appeal but Midwestern mystification of the French, as not even Timothee Chalamet can ruin the moments on the back of Lyna Khoudry's motorbike, and a prison door through which you can only see Lea Seydoux's face pouting for sweets is basically a straight riff on Tom of Finland. There's one major segment here that isn't about the impossible allure of French women, so naturally it's about a sad homo trapped in Belgian juvenilia as in amber. The best story of the bunch.

Anderson's dollhouses, music boxes, competing vanishing points and overlapping planes really paid dividends here. Tableaux vivants to die for. Though one wonders if his charming sense of control contributes to 2 admiring stories of police, and one that feels, on their merits, merely so-so.

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