The French Dispatch (2021)
October 21, 2021 8:09 AM - Subscribe

A love letter to journalists set in an outpost of an American newspaper in a fictional twentieth century French city that brings to life a collection of stories published in "The French Dispatch Magazine".

NYTimes A.O. Scott Review: He has always drawn inspiration from writers: J.D. Salinger in “The Royal Tenenbaums”; Roald Dahl in “Fantastic Mr. Fox”; Stefan Zweig in “The Grand Budapest Hotel”; an archive of famous and forgotten New Yorker contributors this time around. Beyond such tributes, Anderson uses the tools of cinema to approximate the experience of reading. Watching one of his movies, you are always aware of the presence of his style, and of the dense weave of references, rhetorical curlicues and half-hidden meanings through which a story takes shape. It takes some effort to follow along, and you often feel like you’re not getting everything, but that’s part of the enjoyment. The exasperation, too, maybe. Anderson isn’t really a polarizing figure; there isn’t much to argue about. He’s a taste you either enjoy or don’t, like cilantro or Campari. “The French Dispatch” is an herbarium of his preoccupations and enthusiasms, an anthology film laid out like a magazine, with a short front-of-the-book piece and three meaty features, all decked out with editorial bric-a-brac and a somber epilogue that may be the best part.
posted by vacapinta (31 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Can’t wait to see this.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 12:53 PM on October 21, 2021

I saw this here in the Netherlands on Oct 21 at my local theater. It is one of the most visually stunning movies I have seen. Such density of images. It feels at times like a recap of a movie than the movie itself but I still loved it, especially the last extended clip, the one about Nescaffier.
posted by vacapinta at 12:44 AM on October 22, 2021 [1 favorite]

I was looking forward to this in 2020, when it was originally set to be released, and really looking forward to it this year.

Dense is apt. My initial reaction was delight, and I laughed surprisingly often. Like any anthology movie—e.g., The Ballad of Buster Scruggs—some were better than others. I found the youth revolution section plodding and contrived; the police food section poignant; and the prison artist one captivating.

Where to rank it in Anderson's oeuvre is TBD. I'll have to see it at least once more, but tentatively it's not displaced GBH, TLAWSZ, or MK as my top favorites. It might be better than Rushmore.
posted by bbrown at 1:11 AM on October 22, 2021 [2 favorites]

What a lovely film!

(If you go to the New Yorker podcast for a few weeks ago and scroll down, there's a supplementary podcast featuring cast members reading the actual New Yorker writers who inspired their characters.)
posted by Grangousier at 10:44 AM on October 22, 2021 [5 favorites]

Enjoyed this one a lot; I think this is one his funniest films and like bbrown I laughed throughout. The stories have gravitas but are full of so many funny little gags, clever lines, odd twists, and physical humor that wouldn't be out of place in a Looney Tunes cartoon. The short story anthology format was a nice change of pace for an Anderson film and worked really well.

Some elements didn't hit with me but Jeffrey Wright's performance in particular was so moving. I also enjoyed the twist and turns of the Benicio del Toro story.

In the film, Murray's character tells his writers to "Just try to make it sound like you wrote it that way on purpose." It seemed to me like a tongue-in-cheek statement on the film itself, with its stylistic choices that make you pause and wonder why Anderson did that. For example the use of color and black and white. I look forward to watching it again to soak in all the details.
posted by Emily's Fist at 8:50 PM on October 23, 2021 [4 favorites]

This felt less like a "Wes Anderson film" than usual, in some weird way? But it definitely caught the feel of reading a New Yorker issue, somehow - and in the process, somehow, I sort of understood Wes Anderson's aesthetic on some level a little better.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:13 AM on October 24, 2021 [1 favorite]

Probably the silliest Wes Anderson movie, including the animated movies. Certainly the most theatrical, with lots of trickery you’d expect in a stage play. It felt very Wes Anderson-y to me, but maybe that’s because we basically got four Wes Anderson short films and (what felt like) at least four exteriors pulled back to reveal maps of interiors. A Ballad of Buster Scruggs that I’d actually like to see again instead of just acknowledging as being good.

Also, a really good movie for breaking the glass on returning to theaters.
posted by Going To Maine at 8:28 AM on October 28, 2021 [3 favorites]

I really enjoyed every segment in this movie except for the extended parody of the May '68 protests. Wes Anderson is just about the least political filmmaker I could name. As an individual he doesn't seem to be particularly interested in politics either. That really comes through with that segment, which is completely incurious about the history and ideas behind that moment, and utterly dismissive of the protestors' critiques.

As a filmmaker, Anderson puts primacy on surface aesthetics, and on his characters' personal emotional growth (or lack thereof). In this case he seems fascinated with the look and vibe of the May '68 demonstrations, probably thanks to Godard's films on the subject. But Godard actually cared about the politics of that moment, and that comes through in his films. Anderson has come up against subject matter with more substance and import than his approach is suited for. It's a subject you can't really take an apolitical approach to, and his treatment of it is both ignorant and deeply reactionary.
posted by One Second Before Awakening at 8:26 AM on October 29, 2021 [8 favorites]

Ah, this is very interesting! I know nothing of May 1968. I did think the protest story was the weakest part, though. I’m not actually sure that I’d consider it reactionary - maybe on a second viewing I’ll change my mind - but it’s certainly deliberately obtuse about the nature of the conflict in order to avoid engaging with politics in favor of aesthetics.
posted by Going To Maine at 8:45 AM on October 29, 2021

(Leaving the theater, I thought that the magazine’s full title, The French Dispatch of the Liberty, Kansas Evening Sun, was meant as a kind of nod to the idea that the whole package was a wholly American portrait of French phenomena. That isn’t an excuse for missing a central point, but it seemed to me to be an acknowledgement of it.)
posted by Going To Maine at 9:21 AM on October 29, 2021 [2 favorites]

Just got back from this; so much good fun. My favorite throw away gag was that the kidnapper gang included a bunch of Dutch masterminds.

The score drips with Satie, and was delicious. I love the sound design work in Anderson's films, which is almost never remarked in but increasingly complex and delightful as time goes on. One favorite illustrative touch from the Grand Budapest: in the scene with the Alpine gondolas, at some point the stop and the creaking as they sway in the wind is in perfect time with the soundtrack.
posted by kaibutsu at 9:48 PM on October 31, 2021

Just saw this at Alamo Drafthouse. A very cool thing about the venue: You get a compilation and overview of the French cinema influences on the movie. If you've got one of these theaters in your town, get there early to see the pre-show stuff. There's an animated set piece near the end that's a delight! I really enjoyed this movie.
posted by Carmody'sPrize at 11:59 PM on October 31, 2021 [1 favorite]

Just back from the theater. This feels like a film that would reward rewatching -- I am fairly sure I saw Juliette from the student protests on the subway car with Owen Wilson's cycling reporter, and I bet there are other crossovers between stories. But some preliminary thoughts:

1. It was really quite jarring to have all the students in the protest section speaking French except for Zeffirelli. Timothée Chalamet is a native French speaker, so it's a conscious choice to give him only dialogue in English -- but why?

2. This felt very theatrical/constructed, maybe even moreso than WA's other (pretty theatrical) films. The alternating use of BW vs color, the animated sequences, even the central conceit of stories written by American expats for their midwestern compatriots.

3. I wanted a story with Elisabeth Moss's superdiagramming copyeditor!
posted by basalganglia at 5:00 PM on November 13, 2021 [3 favorites]

Timothée Chalamet is a native French speaker, so it's a conscious choice to give him only dialogue in English -- but why?


My roommate and I were discussing this after we each both saw it, and I mentioned this complaint and he said he thought it had something to do with how we were meant to be paying attention to the fact that Frances McDormand and Juliette couldn't understand each other, but I didn't quite follow.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:21 PM on November 14, 2021

I just got home from seeing this in an actual theater. Both I and the friend I went with are Wes Anderson fans, and we both felt pretty meh about it.

My thing with Wes Anderson is that I love his films when they have strong characters and emotional resonance (The Royal Tenenbaums for instance, which is one of my favorite movies) and I find them pretty boring when they don’t. This film had maybe the least emotional resonance of any Wes Anderson film
I’ve seen. We had so little reason to care about any of the characters, and even when there were moments that might have had an impact, there would be a gimmick to put some distance between the audience and those characters. I just felt like the film lacked heart.

Of course it’s beautiful to watch, and often surprising and funny. My favorite section was probably the last one, simply because it was delightful to watch Jeffrey Wright play James Baldwin so well. But similar to the above criticism about the student uprising section, the writing made me wonder if Anderson actually understands what Baldwin’s work was about, or if he just aesthetically admired Baldwin’s suits and his elegant demeanor. Wright brought a lot to the role that wasn’t there in the script. That last bit where he wanted to leave out the bit about being an outsider - James Baldwin wouldn’t have left that out!!!

(I know that character wasn’t actually James Baldwin but it just seems wrong to borrow his weary elegance without the rage and sadness that informed it.)
posted by lunasol at 10:00 PM on November 17, 2021 [8 favorites]

Roebuck Wright is theoretically a pastiche of Baldwin and AJ Leibling, but the curse here is that black actor + American expat living in France + writer for New Yorker-esque magazine + gay is just going to scream James Baldwin to the exclusion of everything else.
posted by Going To Maine at 9:32 AM on November 18, 2021 [1 favorite]

I've seen the movie twice now, rewatched many of his others, and I think it is better than Rushmore. I also decided that reading the screenplay would firm up some of the chaotic sequences of the film. It certainly did!

There were some differences between the written and filmed versions, but I'm not sure which was the better choice overall. I think the screenplay version of the Roebuck Wright section was better but that was because I had Jeffrey Wright in my head as I read.

posted by bbrown at 6:40 PM on November 21, 2021

I’m with lunasol on this; it was... fine. When an Anderson movie connects for me, it is brilliant. When it doesn’t, I can see the criticisms that his detractors level at him (twee, mannered, precious) on full display. However, even a lesser Anderson joint is at least sporadically funny and interesting.

I liked it okay, but if I never see it again, I’d be okay with that too.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 12:20 PM on November 22, 2021 [1 favorite]

We went to the exhibition of sets, props and costumes this morning - only open for a couple more days in London, but if it comes to a city near you (and you like the film) it's well worth it - some bits (for example, the editorial noticeboard) are reminiscent of Ilya Kabakov at his most Kabakovian. And the concrete wall of ten paintings is included and easily as impressive as a proper painting (it could be put in the Tate Modern, and I don't think anyone would bat an eyelid).

Actors are much smaller than you think they'll be, aren't they? I very much admire the suits, but none of them would fit me.
posted by Grangousier at 6:23 AM on December 3, 2021

I would say "meh" in the Wes Anderson style of "meh" (*), but I did enjoy Jeffrey Wright's performance in the final segment quite a bit.

The first segment in particular seemed to be driven in large part by a desire to have Lea Seydoux naked and in fetish uniform with scowling expression. That left me cold, even though in other ways it was funny.

I, too, would like a segment on Elisabeth Moss's character.

(*) It's not that I feel that a film must be naturalistic rather than mannered, even though our era has come down hard for the former. It's that, at least for the handful of his films I've seen, I feel that Anderson gets a lot of unnecessary credit for making his contrivances and artifice very very evident. Some critics seem dazzled by I Can See The Composition Is Symmetrical So I Must Be Watching A Movie. To be fair, if the aesthetic itself spoke to me more strongly I'd probably find the approach less alienating, but I have very little American midcentury nostalgia.
posted by praemunire at 7:31 AM on December 3, 2021

Can we just take a moment for Tilda Swinton delivering a modern art history lecture, in full early 1970s orange kaftan drag, with a nearly Barbara Walters accent? How is she possible.
posted by dnash at 9:17 AM on January 8, 2022 [13 favorites]

This is a good breakdown: The Absurd Intricacy of The French Dispatch

From the comments:
As one of the visual effects artist working in this film, I can assure you this was all intentional. There were many occasions where Wes would have us stitch together a completely different take for each actor in one single scene and to retime each one so everything was perfectly in-time to his rhythm.
posted by bbrown at 10:29 PM on January 26, 2022 [2 favorites]

BTW: It'll be available on HBO Max starting 2022-02-25.
posted by bbrown at 10:26 AM on February 1, 2022 [1 favorite]

It's available now on Disney+ which is the only streaming service I subscribe to. Definitely a movie to watch and pause and rewind. (Do people still say 'rewind'? Do kids know where that comes from?)
posted by vacapinta at 6:58 AM on February 16, 2022

It's so definitely not on Disney+ in the US and I'm certain never will be.
posted by octothorpe at 8:00 AM on February 17, 2022

Oops! I'm in the Netherlands and forgot to mention that. The stickler seems to be that The French Dispatch is R-rated which is not allowed in Disney US.
posted by vacapinta at 8:07 AM on February 17, 2022

Yeah, Disney isn't going to show a naked Léa Seydoux. There'd be picket lines and a congressional investigation into why Mickey Mouse is corrupting America's youth.
posted by octothorpe at 9:26 AM on February 17, 2022

I watched it a third time (now that it's on HBO Max): holds up after four months. I noticed a lot more of the nuanced acting choices by the supporting cast than I had previously. I appreciated Frances McDormand and Tilda Swinton a lot more this go-round.
posted by bbrown at 9:05 PM on February 27, 2022 [1 favorite]

There were a lot more miniatures than I would have expected.
posted by bbrown at 10:46 PM on March 28, 2023 [1 favorite]

Those miniatures are amazing! They really sell the place as grimy and real as well as fantastical.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 12:55 AM on March 29, 2023

I am still reading through this epic review by Film Crit Hulk, but I can positively say that it's worth the time investment.
posted by bbrown at 10:17 AM on March 29, 2023

« Older Doom Patrol: Bird Patrol ...   |  Gokushufudo: The Way of the Ho... Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments