Quirky, Fun, and Flirty: Reflections on Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch
The French Dispatch occupies a trippy, sometimes hard-to-follow multidimensionality. An anthology film, director Wes Anderson presents a string of vignettes in a journalistic style, lacing them into a larger story that follows the staff of a small newspaper in Kansas as it prepares its final issue. Each vignette takes place in the quaint French town of Ennui-sur-Blasé, a name whose translation indicates boredom and disinterest. However, the film presents eccentric, wildly creative stories that are anything but blasé.
First, we get a cycling tour of Ennui from the point of view of journalist Herbsaint Sazerac. The camera rolls over images of the city in its past: the bustling Le Sans-Blague Café (a critical point of interest later in the film), the silly little pickpocket alley, and an assortment of picturesque niches in the city. Each shot of Ennui in its past is followed by a present day depiction that is virtually the same. Anderson conveys a feeling of sureness in the unchanging banality of the French village. The film is strikingly photogenic—most shots look like they could be film stills showcased in a chic Parisian exposition.
Following the tour of Ennui, the film takes a trip to the local prison to meet Moses Rosenthaler. Serving time for murder, Rosenthaler is actually a gentle giant who creates precious art. Cardazio, an art dealer in prison for tax evasion, rockets Rosenthaler into fame by making his art a wonder of the public eye. However, their relationship soon becomes tenuous as Rosenthaler stalls in creating his magnum opus, which leaves both Cardazio and the audience on the edge of their seats. This is the most compelling of the short stories, as the characters are unexpectedly endearing and the story itself is distinctively imaginative.
Next, we enter into the revolution! How could The French Dispatch claim to be truly French without channeling the French revolutionary spirit? Anderson chose wisely when he cast the French-American heartthrob, Timothée Chalamet. Chalamet nailed the Marxist intellectual, perhaps drawing on his past role in Ladybird. Yet Chalamet’s performance was incomplete for the sole reason that he spoke English throughout almost his entire script. It was a failure on Anderson’s part to deny us of the lyrical grace of Timmy speaking French. The real star of this part of the film was Juliette played by Lyna Khoudri. Juliette went beyond the seductive stereotype of French women in films—her character was clever and strong-willed.
Finally, there’s a dinner party hosted by a prominent police officer. However it ends when his son, Gigi, is kidnapped, and the film continues with the police trying to find the child. One of the kidnappers is a showgirl played by Saoirse Ronan in her most risque role yet.
Overall, the film was enjoyable––that’s certain—yet its calculated chaos was often overwhelming and hard to follow. The movie requires three to four viewings to retrace each plot's intricacy. The much appreciated interludes of French added to the imaginative multi-dimensionality of the film. Anderson weaves in subtle jabs at France disguised as comedic pauses throughout the film, perfect for inducing laughs from an American audience. Wes Anderson films are the definition of palatable: they give audiences characters that are agreeable, but typically not messy enough to be real humans. There isn’t always a deep investigation into a character or moral message, which is why the anthology format works particularly well for Anderson’s style. Instead, Anderson delves into a certain aesthetic nostalgia without having to go too deeply into an intense, emotionally taxing plot. Indeed, each story ends before the audience is left wanting more.
The French Dispatch is quirky, fun and flirty. Quirky, first, in its far-fetched yet totally lovable stories. Fun because each film keeps the audience guessing—the film does not have a dull moment. And lastly, flirty because of Wes Anderson’s enticing, playful juxtaposition of objects, people, and places. Will one leave the theater with a sense of profundity, ready to take on the world as the main character in their own life? No. But that’s not what The French Dispatch is about. This movie unifies art with entertainment. The plot acts as a relief from everyday banality without compromising, but rather cultivating an arthouse aesthetic. While this description could be applied to other Anderson films, The French Dispatch remains unique; the film is an aesthetically curated display of chaos packaged into entertainment for the jovial film lovers among us.
Illustration by Lauren Hogg
Taylor is a Freshman in the SFS studying Culture and Politics.
Cassidy is a Junior in the College studying History and Theatre and Performance Studies.