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USA 2021
Directed by
Wes Anderson
107 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
4.5 stars

The French Dispatch

Although Wes Anderson is the unchallenged master of the cinematic jeu d’esprit his previous film, 2014's The Grand Hotel Budapest looked to me like the culmination of the stylistic odyssey that he began with Bottle Rocket (1999), each film since then methodically extending the achievement of its predecessor.  Watching Budapest I couldn’t imagine how he could go beyond its tour de force combination of complex retro stylings, precise near-OCD production design, intricate visual delights, pop-literati references and devilish wit. Although The French Dispatch shares much with TGHB, remarkably, it manages to burnish those elements to an even more seductive sheen.

'The French Dispatch' is a (fictional) publication that got its start in life when editor Arthur Howitzer, Jr. (Bill Murray) left his home town in Liberty, Kansas and settled in a little French town called Ennui-sur-Blasé. Howitzer gives his writers free rein but he also maintains strict editorial control over a publication that is clearly modelled on that (real world) bastion of art, culture and investigative journalism, 'The New Yorker'.

After a charming introduction to the publication's classically Gallic provincial home (the actual location is not Paris but Angoulême in South-West France) courtesy of a bike-riding Owen Wilson, the bulk of Anderson’s film is made up of three separate stories taken from the up-coming issue of the magazine: a portrait of a criminally insane artist (Benicio del Toro) and his self-appointed dealer (Adrien Brody) introduced by culturati Tilda Swinton; an account of a Left Bank1968-style student protest featuring Frances McDormand as Lucinda Krementz and Timothée Chalamet as Zeffirelli B; and a final story in which writer Roebuck Wright (Jeffrey Wright) relates the heroic actions of a legendary chef (Steve Park) in a police department kitchen. The cast list is extraordinary though some of its members, like Willem Dafoe and Christoph Waltz, make only the briefest of appearances.

The film gallops along furiously, never slowing down to draw breath, a triumph of stage craft, a love-letter to a rose-tinted yesteryear and a wanton display of Anderson’s obsessively detailed visual style, all wonderfully punctuated by Alexandre Desplat's score.

The issues that some will no doubt have with the film is Anderson's almost complete merging of style and content with the former effectively becoming the latter and the absence of a single story line with characters following a consistent arc of development. Notwithstanding, particularly if you’re an Anderson buff, you should see the film on the big screen and, deservedly, more than once.

The French Dispatch is a marvel of cinematic playfulnesss, though once again, I just can’t see where he can go from here.




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