Apart from his impeccably symmetrical and geometrical frames, fast, swift, shiny dialogues, heavy voiceovers, and characters darting away, Wes Anderson provides us, his audience, an inexplicable preoccupation of the characters in his tailor-made films. It has developed into an intrinsic trait, something that is present by virtue. The eager striving for something is remarkably well-shown in his films, often central to the plot: Young Max’s desire to be at Rushmore to Francis’ effort to find the lost bond with his brothers. ‘The French Dispatch’ doesn’t become an exception. It amplifies itself to the core traits of a Wes Anderson film.
After its release, ‘The French Dispatch’ is generally considered as a love letter to journalism’. It surely is, but as written by A.O.Scott, it is not exactly an ode to mainstream journalism. He writes, “The movie is not Wes Anderson’s version of ‘Spotlight,’ in which humbly dressed reporters heroically take on power, injustice, and corruption. Moral crusades are as alien to Anderson’s sensibility as drab khakis. ” Instead, this film is a celebration of the rigorous, energetic creative exhibition of the New York Times of the mid 20th century. It is more personal to the New York Times, a more affectionate ode to it.
‘The French Dispatch’ consists of three stories. It starts with the death of Arthur Howitzer Jr, the editor of the French Dispatch. He dies of an unexpected heart attack, and as per his wish in his will, the publication of the French Dispatch stops, bar the last one. The farewell magazine gets published with three stories and an obituary.
Following the death, it has a travelogue intro, voiced over by Owen Wilson. “The cyclic reporter- by Herbsaint Sazerac” voyages through lanes and corners of the fictitious town, Ennui-Sur-Blasé, explaining how things and how little they have changed. The town is not Paris, though somewhat inspired. For most of the shoot, it was done in Angoulême, Southern France.
The first story of the anthology, The Concrete Masterpiece, is a story of mentally unstable Moses Rosenthaler, played by Benicio Del Toro, who is charged with murder. The art critic and historian J. K. L. Berensen, played by Tilda Swinton, narrates the story of Moses, who develops a strong emotion for his prison guard, Simone, played by Léa Seydoux, in a high-security prison. This unconventional muse creates worldwide fame for Rosenthaler, who connects his artistic acrobatics with the relationship. It grows erotic, often dictated by Simone.
Julien Cadazio, played by Adrien Brody, who’s convicted of tax fraud, also plays a part in the establishment of Rosenthaler’s fame. A renowned art dealer, Cadazio, recruits Rosenthaler for his gallery. He brings a major collector—Upshur (Maw) Clampette (Lois Smith), from Liberty, Kansas, and her entourage, which also includes Berensen; unfortunately, the situation turns chaotic.
The next story, “Revisions to a Manifesto”, features a political correspondence by Lucinda Krementz, played by Frances McDormand, who reports on a student uprising in Ennui. Though there’s no mention of the date, it was inspired by the far-left uprising in Paris in May 1968. Zeffirelli B., played by Timothée Chalamet, leads the uprising, demanding that young men be allowed to visit women’s dormitories. Krementz, when dining with Zeffirelli’s parents, finds Zeffirelli writing a Manifesto, while the police disperse the young crowd with tear gas. She helps him in writing the Manifesto and in the process, develops a relationship, which gives birth to a conflict between Zeffirelli and Juliette, played by Lyna Khoudri. She dislikes the manifesto, and finally when Krementz leaves Zeffirelli makes love with him.
“A few weeks later, Zeffirelli is killed attempting repairs on the tower of a revolutionary pirate radio station, and soon a photograph of his likeness becomes symbolic of the movement. Years later, Krementz adapted the story of Mitch-Mitch’s conscription, and Zeffirelli and Juliette’s relationship, for a play at the National Theatre.”
The last story, The Private Dining Room of the Police Commissioner, is about profiling a police cook, better than none, and about the kidnap of the Commissaire’s son.
Roebuck Wright played by Jeffrey Wright—a mashup of James Baldwin and A.J. Liebling—- is a black homosexual American who chooses to live in an exile in Ennui. He writes about food, and here, his article centres around Lieutenant Nescaffier, played by Steve Park, the greatest chef of police cuisine. The article lands him on the dinner table with the Commissaire, played by Mathieu Amalric. The meal turns into a nightmare when the Commissaire’s young son, Gigi, played by Winsen Ait Hellal, is kidnapped. The dinner is disrupted the whole department is mobilized and they go in search of the missing boy. The kidnap was led by a failed musician called The Chauffeur.
Roebuck tells the story on a stage of a tv talk show, and as he says, it becomes gradually distinct that as the story is narrated—”about crimes committed by gangsters, about crimes of horrific brutality committed by police officers, about daring rescues at great personal sacrifice”—their lies underneath a deep agony regarding the involvement of repression and torture endured by the homosexuals. “Wright remembers his imprisonment in that same cell for his homosexuality, for which he was bailed out by Howitzer and offered a job at the Dispatch.”
His tone becomes personal as he describes the story.
Of the three stories, each one is made with increasing details, probably in excess at times, and in a quiet self-indulgent manner. The production design, the sketch of the stage is meticulously planned and done. The complete composure and control of the curious characters in this curated film poses itself in an extremely sophisticated way and to do justice, rewatches are essential.
I will not say which story is technically better and more prolific. It entirely depends on the person, on how he/she perceives each story. The audience can get a little bit overwhelmed and dialogues brush across the face, but a sincere watch would yield unimagined joy.
I, for myself, adore Wes Anderson. I find them soothing to the eyes and I can absorb myself completely into any Wes Anderson film. One feature that stands out is the universality of his films. The essential emotions remain the same—loneliness, love, longing—-but the stories unfurl in a certain specific way, unique to Wes Anderson.
Sagnik Bhattacharya is a student from Kolkata. He currently studies in class 12 at Calcutta Boys’ School. He sometimes tests the water by writing stories and poetry.