The French Dispatch ***
by Wes Anderson
American movie, 1 h 43
What would the critic of the French Dispatch on Wes Anderson’s latest film? No doubt he would have told, like the journalists of this imaginary publication that the American filmmaker has placed at the heart of his new opus, how the morning session reserved for the press at the Cannes Film Festival got the better of the fatigue of the one of the spectators. Perhaps he would have greeted, with a cruel touch, the snoring of this colleague facing the umpteenth exercise in style of a filmmaker who had the nerve to place the action in a fictitious French town, called Ennui-sur- Jaded !
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A city straight out of the playful brain of Wes Anderson, that the graphic designers of The cross (since it is in this very real newspaper that this article appears) would be hard pressed to place on a map. Cleverly cobbled together reinvention of Angoulême, where a large part of the film was shot, mixed with the Parisian metro and buildings with the fanciful architecture of Jacques Tati’s comedies, “Ennoui” (pronounced in the American style) is the new avatar of dream worlds of the American director.
A gallery of characters
In The French Dispatch, he once again stages a large and beautiful gallery of characters with intertwined destinies, like those which made the success of his sophisticated family comedies (The Tenenbaum Family, 2001), his bittersweet initiatory stories (Moonrise kingdom, 2012), and other little stories with drawers part of the large one, the one written with a capital “H” (The Grand Budapest Hotel, 2014).
Common to this colorful troupe interpreted by the cream of American and French cinema: a magazine, the last edition of which is due to appear following the sudden death of its founder, Arthur Howitzer (Bill Murray), uncompromising defender of narrative journalism in the literary style. This improbable French subsidiary of Kansas City Evening Sun is a thinly veiled nod to New Yorker, prestigious magazine of which Wes Anderson is an unconditional admirer.
The film is viewed as one flips through this newspaper with its elegant and sophisticated layout, enamelled with drawings as funny as they are refined, transcribed here in tasty animated sequences of which Wes Anderson has the secret. Four stories from the final issue of French Dispatch are told with the same narrative mastery demonstrated by the filmmaker in The Grand Budapest Hotel.
So many articles, so many stories
In the first pages is thus offered an unvarnished description of the lowlands of Ennui by a bicycle reporter (Owen Wilson). Follows the romantic story of a sociopathic artist in detention (Benicio del Toro, shaggy and brilliant) who makes one of his jailers his muse (Léa Seydoux). The international news pages see appearing an article by a great reporter with relative neutrality (Frances McDormand) on the student revolts of May 68 whose leader (Timothée Chalamet) negotiates his surrender around a game of chess. And, by way of dessert, the gastronomic chronicle on the cook of the gendarmerie, Lieutenant Nescafier (Stephen Park), turns to the criminal and culinary investigation.
This final chapter is undoubtedly the most successful, the most touching too: of Asian origin, the agent in the chef’s hat feels eminently indebted to the country that has welcomed him, ready to make any sacrifices, while languishing from a native land he no longer knows. A character through which Wes Anderson seems to express himself, whose nostalgia is great for an era he did not know.
References in pictures and music
A lover of poetic licenses, the filmmaker portrays France from the 1950s to 1970s through the filter of his cinematographic (Godard, Truffaut and Clouzot, among others) and musical references – songs by Aznavour and Christophe play on the jukeboxes in the colors saturated with Sans joke, the local tobacco bar. This fantasy land is just as exotic in Anderson’s eyes as the Japan of Isle of Dogs, full of references to Kurosawa and Ozu, or the India of On board Darjeeling Limited, multiplying the nods to Satyajit Ray.
This preciousness of a cinephile and gifted filmmaker sometimes played tricks on him when the formal meticulousness (symmetrical frames, clever travelings, perfectly circular camera movements) stifled the emotion. This is not the case here, where the homage to the great press and to France, country of the arts, weapons and (culinary) laws, reveals an irresistible tragicomic poetry.
Wes Anderson, a gifted filmmaker
1969. Born in Houston, Texas.
1991. Graduated in philosophy from the University of Austin.
1996.Bottle Rocket, first feature film.
2001.The Tenenbaum Family, first success.
2010. Fantastic Mr. Fox, Crystal for best animated feature film at the Annecy Festival.
2012.Moonrise kingdom, selected in Cannes.
2014.The Grand Budapest Hotel, his greatest success, Grand Jury Prize at the Berlinale.
2018.Isle of Dogs, Silver Bear for Best Director in Berlin.