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The French Dispatch Review: Is Stylistically Beautiful But Hollow

Everything that comes to mind when thinking of a Wes Anderson film applies to The French Dispatch. The precise attention to detail, the stylised direction and editing, the extremely unusual speech, the predetermined color palette, and the harkening to an idealized version of the past are all present. Anderson, on the other hand, appears to have gone too far because the anthology picture, written and directed by the auteur, is a clear case of style over content. While it’s as visually appealing as any Anderson film, it’s hollow under the surface.

Anderson, Roman Coppola, Hugo Guinness, and Jason Schwartzman’s narrative has been called a “love letter to journalists.” Arthur Howitzer Jr. (Bill Murray) is the editor of “The French Dispatch,” a French-language branch of the “Kansas Evening Sun.” As a young man, Howitzer travelled to France and never returned; instead, he “brought the world to Kansas” through the stories published in his journal.

“The French Dispatch” is clearly influenced by “The New Yorker,” while being set in the fictitious French village of Ennui-sur-Blasé. (“Ennui” translates to “boredom,” which regrettably applies to portions of this picture.) Some of the characters and events are true, such as the May 68 student occupation protests. The video is separated into four chapters, each of which covers a different story for the magazine.

“The Cycling Reporter” is the shortest of the four vignettes, providing more as an introduction to the film’s milieu than as a standalone drama. Herbsaint Sazerac (Owen Wilson) speaks straight to the camera as he rides his bicycle through Ennui. Another peculiarity of the film is the use of a lot of still photography in this portion. It also offers brief scenes of Howitzer working with his authors on their pieces, demonstrating how he pampers them in comparison to his treatment of the rest of the employees back at the magazine’s headquarters.

The first true story is “The Concrete Masterpiece,” which tells the story of an imprisoned artist (Benecio del Toro), his jail guard muse (Léa Seydoux), and an art buyer (Adrien Brody) who is desperate to make his work famous. Tilda Swinton offers context to the story by alternating between her delivering a lecture about the artist and the story itself. This part also emphasizes the rather perplexing combination of color, black and white, and grayscale. Even more odd is the film’s intermittent use of French with very styled English subtitles.

The most interesting segment is “Revisions to a Manifesto,” which follows a reporter (Frances McDormand) and a teenage revolutionary (Timothée Chalamet) as they cover student protests. McDormand’s clipped lines and no-nonsense demeanor contrast beautifully with Chalamet’s floppy-haired charm and naiveté.

The final episode, “The Private Dining Room,” features a food writer (Jeffrey Wright) reporting on a police chef (Stephen Park), but deviates into the kidnapping of a police commissar’s son and the struggle to recover him. Despite Wright’s engaging performance and some intriguing artistic choices, this part is a letdown and demonstrates Anderson’s incapacity to develop compelling characters in such short timeframes.

The French Dispatch is undeniably beautiful, thanks to Alexandre Desplat’s exquisite score and Robert Yeoman’s eye-catching cinematography. For example, there’s a very lovely view of Saoirse Ronan’s eyes (yes, she appears in the film, if briefly) through a door grate. Despite being so wonderfully styled, its limited color palette and frequent use of black and white deprive it of some of Anderson’s previous films’ escapist fantasy.

Despite its splendor, the film fails to deliver compelling stories or create characters with whom the spectator can identify. Despite being a reunion of many alumni of Anderson’s previous films, as well as a slew of new faces, the majority of the ensemble does not have enough time to make an impression. Willem Dafoe, Elizabeth Moss, Anjelica Huston, and Edward Norton all make appearances, although only a few get enough screen time for the audience to remember their characters’ identities.

The French Dispatch is a technological marvel, and aficionados of Anderson’s approach will enjoy it. However, its actors are underutilized, and the anthology style prevents us from becoming too attached to any of the characters. Howitzer has a sign in his office that says, “No crying,” but with a film that is so tough to connect with, there’s no chance of that happening.

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The French Dispatch Review: Is Stylistically Beautiful But Hollow
The French Dispatch Review: Is Stylistically Beautiful But Hollow
The French Dispatch Review: Is Stylistically Beautiful But Hollow
The French Dispatch Review: Is Stylistically Beautiful But Hollow
The French Dispatch Review: Is Stylistically Beautiful But Hollow
The French Dispatch Review: Is Stylistically Beautiful But Hollow
The French Dispatch Review: Is Stylistically Beautiful But Hollow
The French Dispatch Review: Is Stylistically Beautiful But Hollow
The French Dispatch Review: Is Stylistically Beautiful But Hollow
The French Dispatch Review: Is Stylistically Beautiful But Hollow
The French Dispatch Review: Is Stylistically Beautiful But Hollow
The French Dispatch Review: Is Stylistically Beautiful But Hollow
The French Dispatch Review: Is Stylistically Beautiful But Hollow
The French Dispatch Review: Is Stylistically Beautiful But Hollow
The French Dispatch Review: Is Stylistically Beautiful But Hollow

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