Director: Wes Anderson. With: Benicio del Toro, Adrien Brody, Tilda Swinton, LÃ©a Seydoux, Frances McDormand, TimothÃ©e Chalamet. 15, 103 minutes.
Wes anderson is a collector of songs, old movies and wandering emotions. In his films, he carefully arranges these things like a young child displaying trophies on a bedroom shelf. It has never been so obvious as in his last, The French dispatch, in which he talks about his twin loves: France and journalism from the New Yorker magazine. A piece of anthology, the film offers three short stories (and a little more on the side) told by expatriate American writers based in the fictional French town of Ennui-sur-BlasÃ© (which roughly translates to Boredom on indifference).
And, like the best of Anderson’s films, The French dispatch is both utterly exquisite and deceptively complex – a film that, like the best of food, is even richer in its aftertaste. First, there is the aesthetic pleasure of her dollhouse dioramas. Never has Anderson’s work looked so balanced, detailed and precise, as his usual cinematographer Robert Yeoman has captured it. It’s also so filled with A-listers and privileged collaborators that the Oscar nominee’s appearances Saoirse Ronan and Oscar winner Christoph Waltz almost feel like an afterthought. But then underneath is the sadness – a distinct hallmark of Anderson’s film, where very lonely souls try to romanticize their pain through ’60s records and vintage leather shoes. It should sound trite and inauthentic. But why, then, do his films always make me cry?
The French dispatch specifically indulges in, and perhaps weeps, the romantic fantasy of a time when journalists were well paid, free of their creativity, and loved by their employers. Publisher Arthur Howitzer Jr (Bill Murray), based on The New YorkerThe co-founder of Harold Ross, is unswervingly sentimental about the profession, despite his gruff demeanor and his motto “no crying”. Travel writer Herbsaint Sazerac (Owen Wilson) guides us through the gentrified history of Ennui-sur-BlasÃ© and its rat-filled tunnels. JKL Berensen’s (Tilda Swinton) story of an imprisoned painter (Benicio del Toro) and his muse (LÃ©a Seydoux) subtly tackles the way in which the label of “tortured genius” can descend like a fog in front of the eyes of others.
Lucinda Krementz (Frances McDormand) stumbles upon a pack of revolutionary students, led by Zeffirelli (TimothÃ©e Chalamet) with wild hair and poetry – a treatise on “narcissism affecting young people” who seek absolute freedom at all costs. Roebuck Wright (Jeffrey Wright, in the film’s Outstanding Performance), based on writers James Baldwin and AJ Liebling, tells the entertaining story of a heavy kidnapping case that ends in an elaborate feast. What unites these disparate chapters is the shared conclusion that in order to fully devote yourself to your profession, you must be prepared to accept a lonely existence. Lucinda at one point wonders if she is crying because she is sad or because tear gas from riot police has started to flood the room she is sitting in. Both, in fact, are true.
But Anderson is not cynical, and The French dispatch rigorously argues the value of these sacrifices. Most of the time, the vignettes are set in monochrome, but they flourish in its usual palette of faded pastels and neutrals whenever the story has to express a writer or artist’s raison d’Ãªtre – an abstract painting, a six-course meal, political radicals falling in love.
Anderson, who absorbed French culture like the end of a baguette drinking the sauce from a plate, shows so much care and delicacy in his vision of the country. Yes, it was filtered through his obsession with the New Wave movement and its filmmakers, such as JeanÃ¢ ???? Luc Godard and FranÃ§ois Truffaut, but also through experience and memory (he lives in Paris).
The French dispatch is never more moving than when it simply documents the daily rituals of Boredom-on-BlasÃ©. Burrows rushing through the cobblestone streets as an old woman opens a pair of shutters to let in the early morning light. A galette des rois, a traditional French cake, shared around a large family table on the occasion of Epiphany. Teenagers have gathered around a cafe jukebox, arguing just because they can. What a beautiful place to visit.