Wes Anderson remains one of Hollywood’s most singular auteurs
Writer-Director Wes Anderson is a fixture of modern American arthouse filmmaking. In fact, he might well be the most well known of any arthouse filmmakers. Just his name alone conjures up mental images of symmetrical framing of overly twee characters in pastel environments. His style is easily pinned down, but the power to identify his directorial trademarks speaks to the singular vision his filmography represents. With The French Dispatch, Anderson aims to pay tribute to The New Yorker magazine, French film history, and more broadly the dying tradition of well-funded, print journalism.
Utilizing the structure of a magazine going to print, Anderson employs an anthology structure to tell three distinct stories, all in the same setting of mid-century France. The first of which delves into the tortured mind of an incarcerated artist, and how his opportunistic agent takes advantage of that pain. The second is a recounting of a reporter’s struggle to stay neutral during a student uprising against the local authorities. And the third is a daring account of a botched dinner party that ends up becoming a kidnapping investigation.
If you’ve seen a Wes Anderson film before you’ve come to expect his deadpan, witty dialogue, and The French Dispatch is home to some of his best comedic moments. However, I find this film to also be one of his most emotionally affecting in some time. There is a shared sadness that permeates each story that extends into the brief glimpses the audience is allowed inside the offices of the magazine. For some characters the pressure to create destroys them; some are alienated by society for their identity, while others find themselves in a world that seems to stay the same the more it changes, and that stagnation drives them into despair.
This is not to say The French Dispatch is a solemn or emotionally draining experience, it’s far from it, the quick pace and multiple stories help to make it a supremely watchable piece. The characters are also endlessly enjoyable, and each journalist is wonderfully engaging in their own unique way, much like a well curated magazine full of unique viewpoints and experiences. Despite a relatively long runtime, there isn’t a single piece that would be worth removing.
For me, what makes this film such a standout in Anderson’s distinguished line of work is that it so deftly balances the fun of celebrating a time and artform, with the sadness of accepting the death of that which we once loved so much. It’s a beautiful eulogy to a time past while acknowledging that where we are now is in some ways, a much better place to live, despite what has been lost in the process. The French Dispatch is currently in theaters. – 4.5/5 stars