Unlike the other grittier films on the programme schedule at Cannes, no one came out of Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch squirming, shocked or startled – it was pure delight from beginning to end. The only thing I regret is not bringing a pot of piping hot tea to sip on throughout. It’s Anderson’s first release since Isle of Dogs in 2018 and for those waiting with bated breath to be enamoured by his stylistic approach to filmmaking, you won’t be disappointed. For those of you with an indifferent approach to his work, you’ll still emerge from it with a deep appreciation for his uniquely symmetrical view of the world.
The French Dispatch tells three unique stories based in the fictional French city of Ennui-sur-Blasé from the perspective of journalists at The French Dispatch newspaper headquarters. Each of the three vignettes are standalone tales, acting as unique chapters in an overall composition that examines the artistic endeavour, namely writers and artitsts. Bill Murray heads up the editing room, commandeering the sentiment in the office by repeating multi-purpose mantras to his journalists such as ‘write it as if you intended to write it that way,’ and ‘no crying in the office.’ He presides over the narratives and corrals his team of writers to get out into the world and find the best stories. Anderson presents the best stories through the prism of a neat magazine edition with distinct chapters.
The first chapter opens dramatically with Benecio del Toro painting his French muse Celine (Lea Seydoux another Cannes staple this year who also stars in France by Bruno Dumont) in a large studio. He gets up and goes to paint on her torso and she slaps him away and orders him to get changed; Del Toro into a straight jacket and Seydoux into a wardens uniform. Roles reverse and the guard leads her inmate back to his cell where an angsty, Dellboy art dealer in the form of Adrien Brody comes knocking on his cell door to sell off this talent. At the release hearing, Anderson sets up an imposing court room scene where Brody pleads with the jury to spare his newfound ticket to fortune. The scene in particular in the first chapter and the dynamic between the guard and inmate is all to reminiscent of Raising Arizona, a Coen Brothers saga that Anderson no doubt has been stylistically influenced by. The torturous relationship between guard and prisoner is deeply moving and for me was the showstopper chapter that in truth blew me away.
It is followed swiftly by the inter-generational coupling of Frances McDormand, a staunch school teacher who takes the rebellious Timothee Chalamet under her wings to assist him with his youth manifesto. This story is a fantastically constructed insight into la vie jeune and Chalamet’s rivalry with an opposing teenager is very West Side Story and the set pieces make it even more so, looking like a delightful, three dimensional Broadway play. This slice of Wes Anderson’s pie is a lovely bite of commentary on the ideological optimism of youth.
The final piece of narrative shows Chef Nescaffier (Stephen Park) rescuing a commissioners son from a kidnapping. while Liev Schreiber retrospectively interviews him about the event on a Dick Cavett style talk show. This was the segment that was certainly the weakest in terms of story, but what it lacks in words it made up for in its visuals as the dark alleyways and smoky, navy interiors stay with you long after you’ve left the cinema.
Told through a blissfully symmetric, and endearing colour palette, every chapter is made up of detailed scenes, isometric sequences, and even more profound and arresting moments. Criticisms have certainly been made of his simplistic, symmetrical canvas (this writer included), with his idealistic depiction dismissed as an unattainable view of the world. But what Anderson did incredibly well here, was in his chaotic, disordered, disparate approaches to love, loss and lust in a truly realistic way. The characters may be impeccably groomed, their hair perfectly quaffed and their living rooms impeccably chic, but their stories and worlds are noticeably imperfect.
The film is dazzlingly stylish, oozing glamour and precision and the romantic depiction of journalism and stories could only be received one way by a room filled of young journalists and storytellers. The French Dispatch is endearingly delicious, expertly connecting the perfect world with an imperfect life and the crowd lapped it all up.