The French Dispatch

The French Dispatch ★★★★

In the summer of 2012, before cinema supplanted video games as my predominant artistic hobby, my pre-teen self convinced my mother to allow me to subscribe to Nintendo Power, that staple of late 80's video game culture, rather than merely adopt the window shopping perspective I had previously. Imagine my disappointment when just a few months into my subscription, I received the solemn news that the magazine would be shutting down that December. Though I was a subscriber for only three issues (perhaps the last ever subscriber they received?) I nonetheless felt I got to experience the rapture of writing to transmit stories and insights.

I couldn't help but think back to those months as I watched The French Dispatch. Within its opening minutes, it is revealed to the audience that what we see the publication's final breaths. Its purposes are to be cut short by artistic design contingent on personal circumstance rather than, say, the forces of creative destruction. In any other medium reliant on the written word, that would be the end of the matter, but in journalism, perpetuity might be presumed to be perpetual by societal necessity. In this regard The French Dispatch arguably questions some of the fundamental mores of journalism, insinuating that its most vital purpose is as a means of storytelling and contemplation of ideas rather than necessarily the purveying of news or speaking truth to power. It's a bold proposition during this current epoch, in which public trust in the media has precipitously fallen due to the dueling perceptions of what journalism should be for - and it seems that Anderson's side stakes a different path by recognizing it as an equal to those other artistic mediums.

It is this meditation bubbling in the background that undergirds each major segment of The French Dispatch, with the stories getting to serve as a springboard for a myriad of ideas while also cooking up even more deliciously Andersonian stories and interactions. By emulating the structure of a magazine, with each story flowing into the next, and the narration that accompanies the onscreen events, the film sometimes gets a bit exhausting here and there, but also succeeds at conveying the manner in which the mind goes wild as it reads stories - even ones which actually happened. It also succeeds on the same fronts as most of Anderson's other modern works, with frequently funny zingers, exquisite production value, and deligthful turns from a capable ensemble. Though the anthology structure prevents certain performances and sequences from standing out as specific highlights within Anderson's filmography overall, they all benefit from the same care that illuminates his best features. And perhaps that's the point - the specific art form that is the magazine article may not necessarily provide us the fully developed portraits that a novel might of characters, but we nonetheless get to gleam their essence, and achieve satisfaction as we find a new perspective or idea to explore.

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