The French Dispatch (2021)

The French Dispatch (2021)

2021 R 108 Minutes

Comedy | Drama | Romance

The quirky staff of an American magazine based in 1970s France puts out its last issue, with stories featuring an artist sentenced to life imprisonment, student riots, and a kidnapping resolved by...

Overall Rating

8 / 10
Verdict: Good

User Review

  • WHAT I LIKED: In order to tell larger stories about convincing characters, most filmmakers and actors attempt to embed people's little mannerisms and behaviours without the audience noticing. But every now and then you get someone (think Tim Burton, Stanley Kubrick, or many animation directors) who harken back to the silent era by being most interested in those quirks, and even going to great lengths to satirically and theatrically emphasise them.

    In the case of 'The French Dispatch,' Wes Anderson (famously another such director) uses a story about an American magazine where the writers (namely Owen Wilson, Tilda Swinton, Frances McDormand and Jeffrey Wright) simply observe a bunch of strange people in France in order to do just that. It's split into magazine segments, and the purpose of each one isn't to drive home some thematic point, to build plot, or to develop any serious engagement in the characters, but merely to keep us captivated and entertained by the intricacies of the subjects' typical and atypical ways, and in that sense it's arguably the most Wes Anderson-y Wes Anderson film to date.

    To give an example, the first major story is about a tortured artist called Moses (Benicio Del Toro) who's introduced by Swinton as a genius painting a naked Lea Seydoux, but that's soon subverted as his muse gets into an officer's outfit and locks him back in a prison cell. As it turns out he's a convicted murderer, and Anderson goes to great lengths to satirically paint him like one. The guards (including his aforementioned subject) are almost comedically cold and offer zero sympathy, the art dealer who discovers him (Adrien Brody) is played as desparetly Scrooge-like in his quest to make him famous, whilst Moses himself literally growls when he gets angry and performs an obligatory sob story to the inmates whilst offering no remorse for his crimes. All of those little characteristics serve bold, brash stereotypes, but they're deliberately played up as amusing and interesting by both the cast and Anderson himself who more than ever uses his camera and production design - through a mix of aspect ratios, animation and colour or black a white - to deliberately draw the eye to certain details; be that an exaggerated facial expression, a funny physicality, or the mood of the place they're in. That's the same throughout all of the stories - the others being about a revolutionary teen (Timothee Chalamet) and a cook who saves a kidnapped boy (Steve Park) - and it results in a constantly amusing and theatrical portrait of little, steteotypical human behaviours that will keep you smiling throughout.

    WHAT I DIDN'T LIKE: Because his characters are (perhaps more so than ever) painted as caricatures rather than real people, you'll never really engage beyond the surface-level.

    VERDICT: 'The French Dispatch,' sees Wes Anderson use a story about people observing people to observe people in a more Wes Anderson-y way than ever before. The result is theatrical, funny and captivating, but never profound.