The French Dispatch is truly unique and unlike any other movie in the industry today, apart from well, another Wes Anderson movie. Even by Anderson’s standards, The French Dispatch stretches his creativity and humour in manners that we have not seen before in his previous ventures. The first thing that strikes the viewer is the film’s overall visual splendour. While most of the film is presented in the now rarely used squarish aspect ratio of 4:3, this is occasional expanded to the usual 16:9 format to dramatic effect. Then there is the use of a dream-like, yet pleasing use of pastel colours, interspliced with scenes in black and white. At one stage, the film even translated into animation format! Even with so much going on visually, we are bombarded with a relentless stream of visual as well as verbal gags. These are not laugh out loud jokes but more subtle and a less direct form humour. Indeed, often before we can laugh at something, something else pops up to grab our attention. The rate of things happening on screen is so fast that it is probably humanly impossible for us to capture every single detail. All this makes The French Dispatch a movie that demands multiple viewings in order for us to truly experience and appreciate it fully.
Being in a Wes Anderson movie is often deemed to be a privilege. It is hence no surprise to see so many familiar faces in the ensemble cast for The French Dispatch. Despite their often brief appearances, catching the cameos from the likes of Edward Norton, Willem Dafeo, Liev Schreiber, Christoph Waltz, Henry Winkler and more, is an attraction on its own. Taking on meatier and longer screen time roles are Lea Seydoux, Owen Wilson, Bill Murray, Benicio Del Toro, Adrien Brody and Frances McDormand. Together they bring to life extracts and collection of articles from the so called French magazine, The French Dispatch. So what we have are three short stories woven together by their common association with the publication, in addition to an introduction to the fictional town of Ennui (which apparently means Boredom!) where the French Dispatch office is supposed to reside.
For me the first tale of “The Concrete Masterpiece” was the one I enjoyed the most I have to admit that I got a bit lost in translation with the other two stories on “Revisions to a Manifesto” and “The Private Dining Room of the Police Commissioner” and missed much of the details as things were happening too fast. That’s where repeated viewings may help provide further enlightenment.
The French Dispatch like many of Wes Anderson’s earlier works (eg The Grand Budapest Hotel, Isle of Dogs, Moonrise Kingdom and The Royal Tenenbaums) is something that you will either love or hate. He has his unique style of filming and humour that not everybody can necessarily appreciate. For me this is a refreshing departure from the norm and I always enjoy Wes Anderson’s humour. This is not as accessible and relatable as the brilliant The Grand Budapest Hotel, but it is no less a rare and much welcome treat for Anderson’s fans.