BY BOBBY STYLES
The French Dispatch is the newest film from idiosyncratic auteur, Wes Anderson. It's a love letter to journalism, set in a fictional French outpost of an American newspaper. The movie is Anderson’s first “anthology film,” containing four short films, all stories within the final issue of the titular newspaper.
This movie is quite possibly Wes Anderson’s most detailed film. Anderson is a director known for filling out the frame with intricate details, offering clues and rewards in the background or on the outskirts of any given shot. The French Dispatch takes that concept and enhances it tenfold, presenting the viewer with more information on-screen that the human eye has time to process. Like the magazine format that inspired this movie, this is a film that might benefit from being viewed at home. The viewer would be able to pause any moment and peruse the full details of the frame, spending as much as they personally choose before moving on, working through it at their own pace as one would a magazine.
Wes Anderson’s movies have a style that's completely their own. They're instantly recognizable because their aesthetic is utterly unique, and nothing else like it exists. Anderson not only crafts entire worlds, he seems to have created a new version of reality that sits parallel but off-track from our own. The French Dispatch continues with this idea, as established in Wes Anderson’s masterful prior films.
The French Dispatch is a tribute to writers in general. The authors of each short story/film are placed at the center of their respective stories, and the importance of the storyteller is paramount in each one. Like the authors themselves, each short film has its own voice, and this shows the maturity of Wes Anderson as a writer. This movie shows his flexibility and versatility, successfully writing in the voice of several wildly different characters.
The topics of Wes Anderson’s films often seem random, but they're usually topics or ideas that he's passionate about. His enthusiasm for what he loves is infectious, and spreads its way into the hearts and minds of his audience. In the case of The French Dispatch, Anderson is primarily drawing influence from the New Yorker magazine.
The format of this film is designed to imitate that of a New Yorker issue. It even includes a Table of Contents within the movie. Like the famous magazine, The French Dispatch features some lighthearted sketches and three substantial main stories. Never before has a film been more dedicated in its pursuit of bringing the idea of a magazine to life.
The cast is absolutely unbeatable in this movie. Anderson seems to be at the point in his career that he can work with any actor he wants to, because even the small cameo-esque roles go to actors like Willem Dafoe and Saoirse Ronan; actors who typically serve as the leads in their other movies. Anderson has developed a sort of troupe of actors, each of his films sometimes feeling like a family reunion of familiar faces coming back together. Multiple actors in this film are working with Anderson for the fourth or fifth time; some even longer. These actors work so well together that sometimes it seems they’re all integral to the cohesion of the entire work. If one piece were to be removed, the whole structure would come crumbling down like a Jenga tower.
The French Dispatch is a technically daring film. It constantly switches between color and black and white. It also features a scene in which a younger version of a character gets switched on-camera with the older version of the character. It's a scene so shocking, one realizes they haven’t seen anything like this before. That particular feeling is omnipresent throughout watching this movie.
The French Dispatch features four individual short films, aligned in a nesting doll structure, just like his previous live-action film: the award-winning Grand Budapest Hotel. Each story is completely unique, but they all feature the dedication to detail, pathos, and idiosyncrasy that we’ve all come to know and love from a Wes Anderson film. This is a movie that's absolutely intended for the already-converted. If you’re not a fan of Wes Anderson, this film won't convince you otherwise. However, if you do subscribe to Anderson’s particular brand of filmmaking, The French Dispatch will only deepen your love for this incomparable filmmaker.
Bobby Styles studied Film at UCLA, and worked as an editor and producer on several film, commercial, and music video projects in Los Angeles. He currently teaches the intermediate and advanced Video Production courses in the Multimedia & Technology Academy at Monache High School. His column appears in The Recorder every Tuesday.