October 25, 2021

CINEMA | Wes Anderson Travels Back to 'The French Dispatch'

"Just try to make it sound like you wrote it that way on purpose."
Mohamed Belhadjine Nicolas Avinée Lyna Khoudri Wes Anderson | The French Dispatch of the Liberty, Kansas Evening Sun
Searchlight Pictures / Indian Paintbrush
Whimsical auteur Wes Anderson makes a dizzying cinematic love letter to The New Yorker magazine in his kitschy French New Wave-inspired period travelogue anthology film spanning five decades, The French Dispatch of the Liberty, Kansas Evening Sun. Starring another deep ensemble cast of famous faces, this is clearly and easily his most stylishly deconstructed film in the vein of the director's usual trademark storytelling he's made yet.

Structured like a chaptered American literary magazine set in an outpost in the fictional city of Ennui-sur-Blasé (literally "Boredom-on-Blasé") in France featuring three separate long-form print journalism stories with short interludes or narrations from various expatriate foreign correspondents between 1925-75, Bill Murray portrays the long-serving founding editor as the framing device of the film. Unsurprisingly, Anderson builds a meticulously detailed history of this fictional publication with its own culture spanning decades and setting an American intellectual perspective of mid-century European history.

First, Anderson delves into the birth of modern art with a prison story about a literal "tortured artist" as played by a particularly gruff Benicio del Toro with Léa Seydoux, Adrien Brody, and Tilda Swinton as the writer of the piece narrating. Next, Frances McDormand and Timothée Chalamet are in the thick of the 1968 Paris student strikes with a swirling tale of youthful rebellion. Finally, Jeffrey Wright channels James Baldwin to star in the last travelogue about dining culture in reporting on a policeman chef before veering into an offbeat kidnapping plot co-starring Edward Norton.

Bill Murray Tilda Swinton Frances McDormand Jeffrey Wright Adrien Brody Benicio del Toro Owen Wilson | Wes Anderson's The French Dispatch of the Liberty, Kansas Evening Sun

Most of Anderson's latest film feels like a series of extended cinematic detours full of visual references of a bygone era or literary journalism and history. Using his famous visual storytelling bursting with even more flair or confidence, the episodic film weaves in and out of sequences recreating a sense of reading an interesting collection of extended travelogues about unique experiences in time or place and eschewing any idea of appealing to anyone other than those imminently familiar with Anderson's established canon of storytelling.

Anderson's triptych of visual long-form essays heightens his own stylistic touches by being free from the reigns of any semblance of a traditional narrative. However, The French Dispatch's freewheeling direction often sidetracks the filmmaker's usual heart and whimsy while making it harder to invest in all the colourfully dysfunctional characters aside from maybe the leaner first entry with del Tero and Seydoux's transfixing chemistry as unlikely artists/lovers. Much of the densely-packed film feels like a loose anthology of side adventures.

The French Dispatch screens exclusively at The Park Theatre before opening wide on October 29th.

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