A love letter to journalism and the art of writing
When a film puts together the things you love, like Wes Anderson and journalism, it can be hard to keep an emotional distance and find the right words to explain it to other people. So let’s start from a recent statement by the director himself, who described The French Dispatch as: «…three things at the same time: a collection of short stories, something I’ve always wanted to do; a film inspired by the New Yorker and by the kind of journalists who made it famous and, finally, I’ve spent so much time in France over the years and I’ve always wanted to make a French film or a film related to French cinema.».
That said, I remember watching the trailer and thinking that it could be too much for the average viewer and too little for Anderson’s fans, always having high expectations. After watching the film, out in Italian theaters on November 11, 2021, my first impression felt almost right.
The French Dispatch has the most gigantic cast you can think of: Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton, Benicio Del Toro, Adrien Brody, Owen Wilson, Frances McDormand and Timothée Chalamet are just a few of the actors who star in the film.
Murray plays Arthur Howitzer Jr., editor-in-chief of The French Dispatch newspaper: following his sudden death, the publication must be suspended according to his will. The editors reunite to put together a farewell issue, in which selected articles of the past editions are republished along with an obituary.
The French Dispatch is a fictional, widely circulated American newspaper, unusually based in the imaginary French town of Ennui-sur-blasé (i.e. Boredom for the exhausted). All the memories related to Horowitzer converge in the creation of these four articles: The Cycling Reporter, by Herbsaint Sazerac (Owen Wilson), a cycling tour of Ennui in which the journalist shows all the key areas of the town, comparing the past and the present of each place; The Concrete Masterpiece by J.K.L. Berenson (Tilda Swinton), story of Moses Rosenthaler (Benicio Del Toro), a killer serving a prison sentence for murder who turns out to be a gifted artist; Revisions to a Manifesto by Lucinda Klementz (Frances McDormand), report on a student protest in which, despite her “journalistic integrity”, Klementz finds herself emotionally involved; The Private Dining Room of the Police Commissioner by Roebuck Wright (Jeffrey Wright), where the journalist recalls the memory of a private dinner with The Commissaire of the Ennui Police (prepared by legendary police officer-slash-chef Lt. Nescaffier) suddenly disrupted by the kidnapping of his son Gigi.
The beauty of the film is Anderson’s genuine passion for journalism and writing, a passion he wonderfully translates into images, with the expertise of the cinema veteran and the manic care of a literary author. Also, in this potpourri of stories there’s a clash between art forms and facts: the journalists from The French Dispatch use beautiful words to tell the viewers about real-life facts, often brutal.
Anderson’s alternates color and black and white to bring these articles to life, also using different languages that borrow from graphic novels and theatre. However, despite the filmmaker’s undeniable talent for writing, it looks like the script can’t keep up with the images: most directors have a genetic sense of aesthetics, but Anderson has a unique sense of composition that resembles photography. In The French Dispatch the beauty of the scenes often exceeds the script, which is fun, poetic and imaginative, but it doesn’t fit all the stories in the same way.
Although some stories feel more accomplished than others, and the film looks difficult for the average viewer and not completely satisfying for Anderson’s fans, The French Dispatch is for sure an adventure. An adventure worth living until the end.