THE FRENCH DISPATCH: A FANCIFUL HOMAGE TO THE WRITER'S IMAGINATION
My life has been full of terrible misfortunes most of which never happened.
--Michel de Montaigne
Delving into The French Dispatch (2021) requires imagination. From the opening scene introducing the fictional literary magazine's editors and its writers, to a later homage to American journalists brainstorming an obituary, the movie takes a circular journey via three different parts. Each, based on a writer's experiences real and/or imagined, will stimulate the senses--the visual, the auditory, and taste, in particular.
Set in an imaginary town, Ennui, France, the plot about the tableau's more celebrated journalists comprises three parts. The primary action is set in color juxtaposed to the recollections of these writers whose stories are either in black&white, with splashes of color, and/or, in Part III, with some animation.
A few comments before proceeding further: this critic has had problems with some of Anderson's earlier films. Never, though, has he disappointed in attracting top talent and pleasing the discerning eye. For The French Dispatch the director has cast many regulars including Bill Murray (the Editor), Owen Wilson (a wannabe Frenchman), Tilda Swinton (a pitch-perfect art lecturer) and some others we haven't seen for a while, e.g., Jason Schwartzman in a cameo
Also familiar, Benecio Del Toro as a Van Gogh-like artist, incarcerated in an asylum; Frances McDormand a to-the-point journalist; Elizabeth Moss, a grammarian/adjointe à la rédaction (editorial assistant) to the magazine's editor; Jeffrey Wright, who gives an excellent interpretation of James Baldwin.
Younger actors such as Léa Seydoux (who has the most brazen and brave performance in the movie as Simone); Timothée Chalamet (a modern-day Marat-like figure), and Saoirse Ronan (a streetwalker with a heart of gold) also shine. A bevy of other recognizable faces will catch your attention, only a smattering of whom seem underused.
Second, anyone familiar with the height of American journalism in Paris (mainly the 1920s), will appreciate the inside jokes, incorporating both sides of the Atlantic--American conciseness versus French verbosity, for example. Caricatures of real writers include E. B. White, Rosamund Bernier (art historian extraordinaire), The New Yorker writer Mavis Gallant, a respectful portrayal of Baldwin, and, even a modernized Escoffier serving delectable creations to police and criminals alike. These depictions amuse then unexpectedly move.
Last, art, philosophy majors and/or intellectuals (pseudo- or earnest) should enjoy the many references to Abstract Expressionism, Realism, Neo-classicism, Symbolism. Absurdism, Communism, Socialism, and so on, often involving raucous discourse. And, jabs at many other -isms that Eugene O'Neill (The Iceman Cometh) would've appreciated.
Writer/director Wes Anderson accomplishes such richness of word as well as exquisite, well-crafted scenery, two of his hallmarks, that some viewers may be overwhelmed. The details beg the viewer to see the film again, to see the inevitable missed elements. So many layers, sometimes overbaked, yet never boring.
An often-cited French expression summarizes this splendid, cinematic homage: la saveur du jour (the flavor of the day). The French Dispatch may not appeal to all tastes. However, for those connoisseurs of anything French, you'll be served a delicious treat.
Rated R for full-front nudity (woman), profanity, criminal behavior, and smoking.
Limited use of French.
Now playing at independent cinemas near you. Locals see it at The Cape Cinema, Dennis, MA.
Earlier reviews not seen on this website (before May 20, 2021) are available on https://www.rottentomatoes.com/critic/wendy-shreve/movies or my previous blog site, featuringfilm.com
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