The French Dispatch
Director: Wes Anderson
Stars: Benicio Del Toro, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, Owen Wilson, Bill Murray, Adrien Brody, Léa Seydoux, Timothée Chalamet, Jeffrey Wright
Anderson’s latest confection is a very busy anthology tribute to old-time publications a la The New Yorker and the disparate eccentrics who worked for them, set in the fictional French town of Ennui-sur-Blasé. If that name made you chuckle knowingly this if for you.
It begins with the death of the magazine’s beloved editor-in-chief Arthur Howitzer Jr. (Murray). Faced with closure, the staff reminisce about their avuncular boss and some of the choice stories they covered for him.
But firstly cycling correspondent Herbsaint Sazerac (Wilson) provides a quick travelogue of the city as he scoots around describing its various characters in a sequence that boasts a dizzying array of styles, from spilt-screen to back projection and some very amusing silent movie-style visual gags.
The first episode proper is ‘The Concrete Masterpiece’, framed as an art lecture by an imposingly coiffured JKL Berensen (Swinton), in which a feral con Moses Rosentahler (Del Toro) is courted and fought over by the art world. In the second segment, journo Lucinda Krementz (McDormand) gets very close to her subject while profiling student revolutionaries in ‘Revisions to a Manifesto’, her article concentrating on Zeffirelli, played by an amusingly intense and earnest Chalamet sporting an Eisenstein-style barnet. The final part ‘The Private Dining Room of the Police Commissioner’ narrated by Jeffrey Wright’s James Baldwin-style writer Roebuck Wright and framed in a Dick Cavett-style TV interview, mixes cops and cuisine (or flics and food) and boasts some inspired Tintin-style animation.
The mise-en-scene is characteristically immaculate and baroque, although not quite as baroque as the plotting with the last segment all but impossible to follow. Thankfully Wright’s dandyish performance and stentorian delivery keeps it going.
Despite the violence, bloodshed and nudity, nothing consequential or as vulgar as real life is permitted to penetrate Anderson’s world of hermetically-sealed whimsy. The Paris ’68-type student protest objectives mainly turn out to be about access to the female student’s dorm rooms. More problematic is having a character clearly based on writer, activist and essayist James Baldwin, but depoliticising him and reimagining as a food writer.
In summary, fans are likely to love; haters'll hate it, comme d’habitude.
The French Dispatch is released on 22st October
Follow David on @DWill_Crackfilm