Wes Anderson is a quirky filmmaker. That isn’t exactly breaking news. He’s built up quite a fan club throughout the years, including both cinema aficionados and actors among the ranks. His films have been described as eccentric character studies. Usually dramatic with comedic elements that always leave me in stitches, the one constant that I adore the most about his movies is Anderson’s authenticity. As a writer-director, his ability to craft believable characters and place them into ridiculous scenarios and allow their conflicts to grow, festering into a sizeable dilemma is second to none.
This is but one reason I was looking forward to watching Anderson’s latest release, The French Dispatch of The Liberty, Kansas Evening Sun.
Even the title of the film may seem extreme, but that’s practically expected by now. The French Dispatch is officially Anderson’s tenth feature film. It’s a love letter to journalism, as well as an ode to yesteryear.
Dispatch focuses on the final issue of an American newspaper that attempts to bring world politics, arts, fashion and human-interest stories of the world to Kansas. Each of the stories takes place in a French town called “Ennui-sur-Blasé.” And each one is more like a vignette or a condensed episode of a limited TV series. While they don’t exactly crossover, individually, they build a world that feels so far away.
“It’s supposed to be charming…”
Anderson seems to sculpt intriguing settings at ease. Featuring three larger than bite-sized tales, at one point our intrepid editor (played by Bill Murray) mentions removing some advertisements and adding more pages in order to include all the details. “The Concrete Masterpiece” follows a tortured (and unstable) imprisoned artist. “Revisions to a Manifesto” is based in part on the real-life May 68 revolutionary student protests. And “The Private Dining Room of the Police Commissioner” zooms in on the travails of a police chief’s personal chef.
Newspapers, typewriters and print journalism. Each one seems so foreign, so strange and expired. Our modern-day tastes as people, as moviegoers and as a society have unfortunately made it so. Our need for 24-hour news stations, both on radio and television, as well as the internet have almost made the entire print medium a thing of the past. That is a sad scenario, but the filmmaker allows us to time travel when it wasn’t.
Some sequences are animated; others are displayed in full color. But a lot of it is displayed in black and white. While I’ve always loved black and white films of the past, I tend to focus more on their storylines while noticing tiny details on the screen. That’s applicable here as well, but white translated subtitles are often hard to read in this scenario. Any other color other than black or white would have been preferred. It only makes sense, but maybe the filmmaker didn’t expect his audience to be able to read it. Now that feels like a true Wes Anderson move.
His sweet-but-strange characters are always the highlights of his films. This time around, the ensemble might just be the best one he’s ever had. The cast includes seven Oscar winners and nine nominees. Anderson regulars Owen Wilson, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, Jason Schwartzman and Murray welcome Willem Defoe, Benicio del Toro, Edward Norton, Elisabeth Moss, Saiorse Ronan, Liev Schreiber, Léa Seydoux, Christoph Waltz and Jeffrey Wright. Somewhere, Quentin Tarantino is jealous for not bringing all these actors together before Anderson.
At times, it seems Wes Anderson is better known for his collaborators than for his box office successes. The French Dispatch doesn’t break his past reputation. More like lighthearted avant-garde art with great performances, the overall storyline firmly sits in the backseat of the filmmaker’s priorities, although watching his works always builds my creative confidence.
Long ago, I worked for my university newspaper and have since written entertainment articles for a variety of outlets, print and online. My love for the medium never vanished but was renewed with The French Dispatch. The movie may not have the heart of Anderson’s Rushmore (probably my favorite of the filmmaker), but its soul is strong on the screen.