The French Dispatch

The French Dispatch ★★★½

Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch is a flood of descriptors and details; you can be overwhelmed or just go with it and get swept away. It has an avalanche of actors, but the largest parts in the anthology ensemble are allotted to Benicio Del Toro, Adrien Brody, Leá Seydoux, Tilda Swinton, Timothée Chalamet, Frances McDormand, and Jeffrey Wright. It concerns ex-pat American journalists covering culture, politics, and food in France but done in the style that The New Yorker trailblazed early on, through portraits of individuals not privy to be profiled before. Anderson’s film is essentially one issue of a magazine, with each section not so much acted out but rather blown out. This is a pretty big statement but I think it's the best-looking film Wes Anderson has ever made; mixing black-and-white photography, Tin-Tin animation, bright pastels, miniatures, and frank (not shy) sexuality. Sometimes there's so much packed into every frame you're not even sure what the story is anymore. But it doesn't matter because every detail is so meticulous, and our awareness of the type of film it is, makes the brisk and impersonal pacing permissible.

The black-and-white and use of negative space is such a welcome look for Anderson, who often stuffs so much into every scene. While it retains the heightened design quality, this frequent New Wave framing approach does mix in lots of new looks for the auteur. After a few stumbled introductions that work like a table of contents, including an Owen Wilson bike tour of Anderson’s made-up French town of Ennui-sur-Blasé, Anderson sinks into a pleasure dome groove for the lengthier stories. There’s the story of prison artist, his art dealer and his muse (Del Toro, Brody, and Seydoux) told by Swinton as the article writer; then a very Wes Anderson appraisal of the 1968 student rebellion with fewer politics outside of access to the girl’s dorms and desire for perfect manifesto language (this is Chalamet’s section) told by McDormand as the author. And then there’s a kidnapping story that's supposed to be about food. The latter, featuring Wright, one of the most criminally under-used actors for decades is an absolutely PERFECT actor for Anderson's pastiche. Del Toro is also a welcome addition who would make a great regular in Anderson's massive ensemble of regulars. His story is the best of the three. In fact, I wouldn't have minded if that was the entire movie.

With a jaunty score, Alexandre Desplat outdoes himself, too, because he, like the camera and production design, gets to play with multiple genres and appearances to match Anderson's ode.

Structurally, it's somewhere in between the Coen brothers’ Hail, Caesar! than The Ballad of Buster Scruggs because the film affords Anderson many different styles he wants to replicate from film noir, to a stage production, to Tin-Tin. And as opposed to not being linked to anything except location, the story he has made is done by writers reporting to Bill Murray’s editor and publisher. For me, it's a little overwhelming, but it's a complete joy to watch, though emotionally more distant than Anderson has ever been (due to the anthology structure). There's no ability for Anderson to slow down here, he just sets down the track and puts the train on full steam. The rare movie I would want to rewatch at a slower frame rate than intended. But even though that would let me see more of the details it would not let me locate a heart.

More on day 7 of Cannes.

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