As I mentioned in my Last Night in Soho review on Friday, I love directors who have an artistic style that is distinctly theirs, and Wes Anderson is one filmmaker where his cinematic art is very unique to him. Wes Anderson films are must-see events for cinephiles as they are all works of quirky, comedic art set to the silver screen. From The Royal Tenenbaums (2001) to The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014), all of Anderson’s live-action films are sure to delight audiences with their whimsical sensibilities (his animated films are fantastic as well). The French Dispatch is no different from the rest of his catalogue: it is incredibly funny, artistically beautiful, and gloriously written/acted—as of right now, this is a top contender for Best Film of the Year.
The French Dispatch (2021) is an anthology film that brings to life a series of articles re-published in the final issue of The French Dispatch, a French bureau of a fictional Kansas newspaper. After Arthur Howitzer Jr. (played by Bill Murray), the editor of The French Dispatch, passes away, his final wish is for the newspaper’s publication to immediately cease following a final issue filled with articles from past editions and his obituary. The opening snapshot is a tour of the city of Ennui, written by Herbsaint Sazerac (played by Owen Wilson); the first story is a look at the life of prison convict and beloved modern artist Moses Rosenthaler (played by Benicio Del Toro), written by J.K.L Berensen (played by Tilda Swinton); the second story is a report on the young student leader of the “Chessboard Revolution”, Zeffirelli (played by Timothée Chalamet), written by Lucinda Krementz (played by Frances McDormand); and the third story is a recounting of an eventful dinner with the Commissaire of the Ennui police force (played by Mathieu Amalric) and of his chef, Lt. Nescaffier (played by Stephen Park), written by Roebuck Wright (played by Jeffrey Wright).
In typical Wes Anderson fashion, the cinematography and intentionality of each and every frame is incredible. I saw several critics joking that this is Anderson’s most symmetrical film, and they are not wrong. Each scene in the film is framed to be perfectly balanced, which I believe that combined with the black-and-white sequences was an artistic device he used to emphasize the newspaper aesthetic. The way the film is presented, each time the exact words from their respective articles are recited, the stories are told in black-and-white, as if they were actually the written word in the newspaper, and whenever the various narrators (Tilda Swinton, Frances McDormand, and Jeffrey Wright) break out of their recitation or when “magazine type” photos were displayed, the film goes back to the standard Wes Anderson color palette. This film doesn’t just toy with the color palette’s back and forth, it also plays with the overall style of the film. There are multiple parts of the film, particularly in the third act, that plays with different stylistic storytelling techniques such as animation similar to a newspaper comic panel. The use of colors and the lack thereof, the perfectly balanced scenes, and structure of the plot and the style in which it is told make for an artistically beautiful love-letter to journalism.
It’s impossible to talk about an Anderson film without discussing his recurring group of actors that he has in his films, and The French Dispatch sees the return of several of them. With the way the story is presented, most of the actors are present only in their respective third of the movie, so, there is not really a singular set of leads in the film. This is truly an ensemble film, and the ensemble was phenomenal. Owen Wilson and Bill Murray start off the film and, in typical Wilson and Murray fashion, bring great comedic timing and bluntness that immediately sets the stage for the rest of movie. Story One, is narrated by Tilda Swinton’s character and the main actors in this story are Benicio Del Toro, Léa Seydoux, Adrien Brody, Tony Revolori, Henry Winkler, Bob Balaban, and Lois Smith. The big standouts here are Del Toro who plays the artist and convicted murderer, Rosenthaler, and Seydoux who plays his prison guard and artistic muse. With the extremely odd relationship their two characters have, Del Toro and Seydoux completely sell it and bring a lot of laughs and heart to every scene they’re in. Other standouts in this section were the always quirkily fantastic Tilda Swinton and the great Adrien Brody who both brought fantastic fantastic performances, quick wit, and unforgettable line deliveries. Story Two is lead by Frances McDormand, Timothée Chalamet, and Lyna Khoudri who, as they always do, deliver jaw-dropping performances filled with nuanced, wonderful line delivery and every bit of the trademarked quirky emotion that every Wes Anderson character has. With the incredible Frances McDormand acting opposite him, Chalamet’s performance here, made me desperately want him to become a member of the Anderson troupe—he fit right in and shined as he and Benicio Del Toro were probably my two favorite performances in the film. Story Three stars Jeffrey Wright, Mathieu Amalric, and Stephen Park with the incredible supporting cast of Edward Norton, Willem Dafoe, Saoirse Ronan, and Liev Schreiber. Once again, without surprise, everyone nailed their roles to perfection and closed out the last of the stories on a humongous high note.
I have absolutely no complaints with this film. I was worried going in as I find movies with a large fantastic cast such as this, sometimes have scenes that feel overstuffed that can drag the pacing of the movie down or have a few actors outshine the others, but that is not the case with The French Dispatch. Every single scene in this film was incredibly enjoyable to watch and the movie flew by at a quick pace. Other than the fact that I simply enjoyed Del Toro and Chalamet the most in the film, by no means did they overshadow the rest of the cast. Even the actors with only one or two lines, such as Elisabeth Moss for example, felt significant and were important to the film’s pacing and charm. Everything about this film just clicked with me perfectly: the cast, score, script, art design, direction. After walking out of the theater, I overheard several people saying that this has become one of their favorite movies of all time and I completely understand why—this is a near flawless piece of cinematic art.
If you have enjoyed other Wes Anderson films, you are going to thoroughly enjoy this movie if not absolutely loving it like I do. From the fantastic direction to the artful cinematography to the jaw-dropping performances of the phenomenal cast, I find every aspect of this film monumentally great. Between The Last Duel (2021) and this film, it safe to say that Oscar contender season has begun. If this film, being as great as it is, is any indication, it is going to be a fantastic couple of months to be a movie fan. The French Dispatch is not showing at as many screens and most films, so if you see it playing in your area, go out and experience this delightfully brilliant film.
The French Dispatch (2021) is rated R for graphic nudity, some sexual references and language.
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