• Amy Hay

The French Dispatch Reminds Me Why I Love Wes Anderson Films

No spoilers, I promise.

Audiences haven’t heard from Wes Anderson since 2018, and, you know, the world has changed a lot since then.

It was with great delight that I came across the promo for the theatrical release of his newest film, The French Dispatch (2021), while journeying down a Youtube rabbit hole. His first live action film in over six years, he once again pairs up with his preferred array of actors (with some new ones peppered in to keep things fresh) and cinematographer David Yeoman to tell the story of… well, to tell multiple stories simultaneously.

The Rundown

Arthur Howitzer Jr. is the editor of The French Dispatch, an American magazine published in a fictional 20th-century French city. Howitzer values, understands, and looks after his writers, granting them plenty of space and creative freedom to craft their best work. Upon his death, the magazine publishes one final edition before closing shop forever.

There is a prologue, an epilogue, and a short travelogue by the newspaper’s bicycle-enthusiast reporter, but the bulk of the film brings to life three distinct articles, each written for The French Dispatch by a different writer.

Film As Art

With The French Dispatch, some critics complain that Anderson has just gone too far with his obsessions. But I disagree. Film as an art form allows us to see and experience the world in new and meaningful ways, and there is much to love in this bright, quirky story. In both speech and costuming, his characters are drawn and presented to the audience in a straightforward, recognizable, and deliberate way. This is a refreshing reprieve from the psychoanalysis trend of the last ten years, in that it has almost become standard practice in film and television to dive headfirst into the muddled and often disturbing psychology of its main characters. At a time in history where everything is so serious, so heavy, and so much is riddled with chaos, lighter and more simply drawn characters are a warm, safe reprieve, appreciated by audiences for their salubrious charm.

The visual uniqueness of The French Dispatch is also stimulating, even captivating, when compared to the more conventional content so often consumed. A visual feast of richly selected color palettes, symmetrical cinematography, and romantic nostalgia, each new arrangement of character and setting draws the audience in and encourages them to emotionally engage with the story. Many jest that Anderson’s work is so distinctly stylized thats it has become its own genre. Without a doubt, his meticulously arranged aesthetic will epitomize his legacy.

That One Animated Scene

I’ve reached the private conclusion that Anderson doesn’t like filming high action scenes. Why? Who can say. He either doesn’t write them at all, or, if the story absolutely requires it (which is, usually), he finds a way to convey the heart behind the action so he doesn’t have to film it. I personally theorize that he regards them as unimportant filler that fail to advance the story in a meaningful way, so he finds a way to sidestep actually filming them. Case in point: he wrote a high speed car chase in The French Dispatch, and in lieu of filming the chase live action, he had that portion of the film — and that portion only — turned into an animated cartoon. No other portion of the film is animated. One may interpret the cartoon as a mockery of all high action scenes, as the repetitive, circular nature of the chase literally accomplishes nothing for the story, as it so often does. Or, maybe he was just inspired by Looney Tunes. Or maybe he ran out of budget. Or maybe he was just trying to stick to his Peter Pan theme by telling the story through the eyes of a 12 year old boy. Who knows.

That doesn’t count as a spoiler, by the way.

In Short

This film is a culmination of all the obsessions Anderson has explored and experimented with in his prior films. Truly, with The French Dispatch, you feel like you are being taken on tour through a meticulously conceptualized doll house world. Even the way the actors move through the frame and the gestures they use to communicate are akin to dolls choreographed through stop motion animation. This is a distinct feature that wasn’t present in any of his prior live-action films, but was clearly inspired from the making of The Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009) and Isle of Dogs (2018).

Personally, I will always be partial to The Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009) and The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004), but The French Dispatch is such an exquisite love letter to writers (of all sorts, not just journalists). With the passing of time, it may win out as my number one.

What’s your favorite Wes Anderson film?

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