‘The French Dispatch’ is an uneven but stunning experimental love letter to the literary arts

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Wes Anderson’s latest film has many, many hallmarks of his oeuvre – quirky characters, clever camera moves, detailed production designs, extraordinary framing, and more. – but the filmmaker is once again trying something new in The French Dispatch. Instead of a singular feature-length narrative, we are treated to his vision of an anthology: a series of three wrap-around central stories, all an ode to the new yorker under the auspices of founder Harold Ross (alongside his talented stable of writers). It is a new experiment, although risky, and largely successful. Don’t get me wrong: when The French Dispatch lands, it’s a breathtaking festival of charm that will be watched during awards season.

The film highlights a fictional paper, The French Dispatch, in a fictional town of Ennui-sur-Blasé, founded in Liberty, Kansas by Arthur Howitzer, Jr. (Bill Murray). The looping defines the structure of the film and its three entries, each told in a narrative style with a heavy voice-over (it really is a literary film) because it was a long story in the Mail himself.

The first of these centers on murderous inmate-turned-internationally-acclaimed artist Moses Rosenthaler (Benicio Del Toro), a modern artist whose paintings of Simone (his guard, lover and muse, expertly played by Léa Seydoux) attract the attention of Julian Cadazio (Adrien Brody), who promotes them in the art world. By far the loveliest of the three, Del Toro and Brody deliver hilariously complex performances in a short film that celebrates and at times castigates the extravagance of the art world.

The second of three is a send-off of 1960s French protest culture, with the young revolutionary Zeffirelli (Timothy Chalamet) struggling to complete his manifesto and keep the revolutionary fire going while French shipping writer Lucinda Krementz (an ever-electric Frances McDormand) is getting a bit too close to the story (shall we say). It’s a lovely entry with fairly technically accomplished set design and blocking, but overall the least engaging of the three… a little slow in contrast without the standout characters from the first and third entries.

The third shows writer Roebuck Wright (Jeffrey Wright) attempting to write a feature film about Nescaffier (Steve Park), when a kidnapping upsets the profile. While the first of the three stories is perhaps the most charming and quirky, the third (in my opinion, the most successful) has the strongest action, exceptional blocking and camera movement, and a wonderful animated sequence. . Specifically, Wright’s multi-layered narrative gives him some subtle yet truly moving character work, by far the most beautiful and touching work in the entire film.

Globally, The French Dispatch is an eccentric experiment in the form of Anderson. Technically, it’s never looked better, while the film’s formal experimentation (both in its anthology format and in the one-time move to animation in one of the segments) is a treat. visual. He is willing to take risks, and it is well worth it. At the same time, it is not without flaws. The film’s literary reliance on storytelling is sometimes exaggerated, while the three stories do not achieve equal success. The opening and ending stories are strong, with the first dripping with charm, humor, and sexiness, while the third boasts fresh experimentation, strong action, and an incredible central performance. By contrast, the middle narrative suffers from a relatively slow pace and less memorable performances and elements of humor, and with it sandwiched between two strong entries, a really, really feels this.

Absolutely, The French Dispatch is a unique departure from a director who refuses to rest on his rhetorical laurels. It’s uneven and flawed as anthologies can often be, but the strength of the first and third entries make it a must-have for Anderson fans (and, I would venture, for those less enamored with his filmography. also). It’s a serious contender during awards season, and it shouldn’t be missed.

The French Dispatch is in theaters.

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