FRENCH DISPATCH, THE
(director/writer: Wes Anderson; screenwriters: from the story by Jason Schwartzman, Hugo Guiness & Roman Coppola; cinematographer: Robert D. Yeoman; editor: Andrew Weisblum; music: Alexandre Desplat; cast: Owen Wilson (Herbsaint Sazerac), Tilda Swinton (J. K. L. Berensen),Timothée Chalamet (Zeffirelli), Léa Seydoux (Simone), Adrien Brody (Julian Cadazo), Bill Murray (Arthur Howitzer Jr.), Edward Norton (Kidnapper), Frances McDormand (Lucinda Krementz), Benicio Del Toro (Moses Rosenthaler), Elisabeth Moss (Alumna), Willem Dafoe (Prisoner), Saoirse Ronan (First Showgirl), Fisher Stevens (Legal Advisor), Liev Schreiber (Talk show host), Anjelica Huston (Narrator), Christoph Waltz (Paul Du val), Jason Schwartzman (Homer Jones), Lyna Khoudri (Juliette), Lois Smith (Upshur Clampette), Jeffrey Wright (Roebuck Wright), Mathieu Amalric (The Commissaire), Stephen Park (Lieutenant Nescafier); Griffin Dunne (Story Editor), Cécile de France (Mrs. B), Anjelica Bette Fellini (Proof Reader), Winston Ait Hellal (Gigi), Guillaume Gallienne (Mr. B), Rupert Friend (Drill-Sergeant), Henry Winkler (Uncle Joe), Bob Balaban (Uncle Nick), Hippolyte Girardot (Chou-fleur); Runtime: 103; MPAA Rating: R; producers; Wes Anderson, Steven Rales, Jeremy Dawson: Searchlight Pictures/American Empirical Pictures; 2021)
“Anderson sends this love letter to journalists, especially the ones from the New Yorker magazine who inspired him.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Wes Anderson (“Isles of Dogs”/”The Grand Budapest Hotel”) is the brilliant writer-director of this masterful whimsical literary film, a salute to journalism, with a star-studded ensemble cast of mostly actors who were in his prior films and here take on a small role. Anderson sends this love letter to journalists, especially the ones from the New Yorker magazine who inspired him. In the closing credits he gives a shout out to former New Yorker writers William Shawn, James Baldwin and Lillian Ross.
The screenplay is taken from three separate stories by Jason Schwartzman, Hugo Guiness & Roman Coppola.
Anderson sets it in the fictional French small city of Ennui-sur-Blasé — a cross between Paris and the Angoulême (where most of the exteriors were shot).
The period film offers the eyewitness views of France by American ex-pats, as viewed through a series of clips from the fictional magazine publication by a Kansas-based publisher, Arthur Howitzer Jr (Bill Murray), who runs a paper for Americans called the Liberty Kansas Evening Sun newspaper. The paper serves as a foreign outpost to bring stories of the continent back home to the locals. When the avuncular authority figure, Howitzer, dies in the late 1960s, his will states the paper will be dissolved and all assets sold. For the final edition of the newspaper, staffed by expats in Ennui-sur-Blase, France, the final three articles are presented along with his obituary.
The dispatches are filed by a bevy of expat writers that include the cycling reporter Herbsaint Saverac (Owen Wilson), the arts reporter JKL Berensen (Tilda Swinton), the political investigative reporter Lucinda Krementz (Frances McDormand) and the food columnist Roebuck Wright (Jeffrey Wright).
The first of the three stories is written by J.K.L. Berenson (Tilda Swinton). It deals with a world famous artist, Moses Rosenthaler (Benicio Del Toro), a psychopath imprisoned for beheading two bartenders. His attraction to the prison guard Simone (Lea Seydoux) results in frescoes mounted in the prison gym as well as revealing the advances of a scheming art dealer (Adrien Brody) selling art to Tilda. In the second story, Krementz reports on student revolutionaries Zeffirelli B (Timothee Chalamet) and the Frech motorcyclist Juliette (Lyna Khoudri) during the May 1968 uprising, where Z. demands access to the girls dorms and becomes the reporter’s lover. The final segment has Wright’s gay reporter reflect on an encounter with the celebrity police chef Lt Nescafier (Stephen Park), which results in a convoluted kidnapping plot which brings about both food porn and animation. Wright recites the bizarre story of the kidnapping taking place to a talk show host (Liev Schreiber).
A voiceover narration is provided by Anjelica Huston, who clues us in that “The French Dispatch of the Liberty, Kansas Evening Sun” took its cues for 50 years from the leadership of Arthur Howitzer Jr., believed to be playing a fictionalized version of New Yorker founder Harold Ross.
Anderson keeps things bouncy, the material fresh and executes it crisply in a playful manner. His filmmaking skills score high marks in his striking mise-en-scene and colorful imagery that pleasantly veers from bold palettes to black-and-white and back again. Cinematographer Robert Yeoman is so good at his craft that he can bring about magical elements to any scene, as the fictional setting might easily be confused for a real place.
The additional fun is in watching each chapter unfold to give another journalist the chance to do their thing and guess how many celebs you can name and from what New Yorker story are the vignettes taken from.
REVIEWED ON 7/27/2021 GRADE: B+