LFF 2021: The French Dispatch – Review

Release Date – 22nd October 2021, Cert – 15, Run-time – 1 hour 48 minutes, Director – Wes Anderson

A group of journalists assemble the final edition of The French Dispatch magazine, after the passing of its editor.

‘Wes Anderson’s made his film again’. It’s a joke many people, including myself, have made numerous times upon the release of a new symmetrical canvas of warm pastel colours. I made it far more than a handful of times in the build-up to the writer-director’s latest feature. However, I quite like Wes Anderson’s film in the various different forms that it’s taken over the years.

Yet, there’s something rather different about The French Dispatch. Not just the anthology form that it takes – bringing to life the articles in the final edition of the fictional French Dispatch magazine – but perhaps the cocktail of feelings to be glimpsed at within. While perhaps not anything too deep-thinking, there are stirring beats dotted throughout the three core stories. Brief shots and images that capture new hints and spirits within Anderson’s work. They’re hard to describe. Near thoughtful and considered. Such elements have been hinted at in the likes of The Grand Budapest Hotel and Fantastic Mr Fox, and while still brief in this latest feature, they have slightly more of a presence and form a gradual, somewhat unexpected, impact within the viewer.

Sharp wit and style are still very much on display within the precise, often article-like dialogue of what is perhaps Anderson’s best screenplay to date. Each journalist tells a story that, while easily being able to work as an individual short film, helps to further enhance the tone of the piece and the world in which it’s based. Linked by Bill Murray’s tired editor – his one rule “try to make it sound as if you wrote it that way on purpose” – as he quietly ponders final drafts; the film glides seamlessly from tale to tale, engaging you almost instantly within each new chapter. The detail of the spoken words helps to develop the world, yet extends the feeling and reminder that these are still articles and features within a magazine. Whether delivered as lectures or simply to-camera monologues while the character works their way through a maze of corridors.

Alongside the precision and detail of the dialogue Anderson visually shows off from the opening stages. Not just in design, a number of moments – particularly as Owen Wilson whizzes through France on a bike – are reminiscent of his stop-motion work, the idealistic, yet slightly artificial nature of the pictures in the magazine, but also in his camera work. From moments of food-prep (à la the sushi scene in Isle Of Dogs) to beats of restrained explosiveness – bursting into loud chaos in a way that only the director could achieve with his distinct style there’s plenty to visually chew on. All effectively bringing you further into the, as expected, meticulously designed world that washes over you.

While it might threaten to become somewhat lengthy, the film holds a grip on you. Keeping you in firm place throughout, often thanks to the characters at the heart of the piece. Jeffrey Wright exudes charm as the food critic who gets caught in a hostage situation, Tilda Swinton’s eccentric energy perfectly matches her art writer and Timothée Chalamet is wonderfully offbeat as a chess-pro revolutionist leader. Even amongst the more thoughtful shots and elements there are still the standard Wes Anderson quirks on display to get caught up in. All working hand in hand to further capture the tone and style of this particular film which stands out from the rest of his catalogue as something slightly different, albeit still covered in his standard fingerprints. When you mix the oddities that the characters find themselves a part of into the film you have an occasionally farcical, consistently entertaining piece of work.

It all makes for captivatingly interesting viewing. Fascinating even. Undeniably engaging and highly entertaining, thanks to the frequently funny humour and artistically farcical nature. Feeling like articles, an anthology, a full-rounded film. The French Dispatch is something different from Wes Anderson and truly something great.

Fantastically conceived and detail, it’s hard not to get caught up in the words and images of The French Dispatch’s seamless anthology. Ranking amongst Wes Anderson’s best, it’s a creative, occasionally absurd and farcical transport to a world you’ll want to rush back to.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

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