Daniel Ketchelos—Staff Writer
The French Dispatch, Wes Anderson’s latest contribution to cinema, follows the publication of an American newspaper in a fictional French city. The film’s structure is composed of a variety of stories contained in the final publication of The French Dispatch Magazine. Full of stylized storytelling and compelling narrative structure, The French Dispatch is a viewing experience unlike other recent film releases.
Wes Anderson based The French Dispatch off his obsession with a real publication, The New Yorker. While the premise behind this film is on a newspaper organization, the film’s plot visualizes the journalists’ eccentric written works rather than focusing on the French Dispatch. This fresh direction creates an experience different from other journalistic films.
Three publications drive the storyline of this film. First, a piece on Moses Rosenthaler, a struggling, but brilliant, artist serving a life sentence for murder. Second, an interaction between French Dispatch journalist Lucinda Krementz reporting on a French schoolboy named Zeffirelli in search of a youthful revolution. The final story follows writer Roebuck Wright as he profiles Nescaffier, a famous chef who crafts specialty dishes for the French police department.
Each article beat is heavily stylized and focuses on intimate visual storytelling rather than visual realism. Scenes are enjoyable to watch and overall are a pleasurable experience. Notably, the story beat on the young revolutionary group of students creates an interesting take on America’s sexual revolution of the 1960s. Each story felt like a film on its own, and when placed together they collectively expand the film’s overall narrative and create an enjoyable piece.
The stories are what drive the three-act film structure of the piece. Additional scenes between the journalist’s articles convey information about the atmosphere of The French Dispatch and help transition between articles. There is also a very informative and witty description of the film’s French setting by Owen Wilson’s character, Herbsaint Sazerac. This scene’s visual structure and storytelling set the tone for the rest of the piece.
Wes Anderson’s distinct style is seen throughout The French Dispatch. His typical storytelling techniques of immaculate flat-lay images, 90-degree whip pans, and an emphasis on movement through a two-dimensional plane create a visual style unmatched by other modern directors. Not to mention Anderson’s central framing motif, this film utilizes visual elements to their fullest potential to convey so many intricate emotions and storytelling that separate this film from other recent releases.
Viewing this film also presents a challenge, especially for those positioned in Northwest Iowa. The French Dispatch is not widely released and is almost exclusively reserved for small indie-film Arthouse Cinemas, such as Film Stream’s Dundee Theater in Omaha (where I made the two-and-a-half-hour drive to view the film). This restriction creates a barrier for those who want to see the film but live too far away to do so without making it a day trip.
Anderson’s style is so heavily stylized it may put off viewers who are not as versed in cinematic storytelling. The average moviegoer may find this film confusing and jarring since it is such a far stretch from typically visual storytelling found in blockbuster releases. Although this is a restraining factor for viewer turnout, those who are lovers of cinema will appreciate Anderson’s deviation from traditional visual techniques.
While this film is one of Anderson’s most ambitious projects, it will be most likely hard for the average viewer to watch without a large amount of focus and attention to subtle details. The French Dispatch is not meant to be a casual viewing experience to pass the time on a weeknight, but rather a meaningful experience requiring attentive viewing.
The French Dispatch provides something fresh and new to the indie-cinema world and is a must-see for those who are passionate about cinema. Overall rating of 5/5.