The French Dispatch is an odd film. Maybe not surprising considering its the latest Wes Anderson film, but this one feels particularly out there. Its hard to explain what it is, and when I heard it’s a magazine in movie form, it made very little sense to me. Having seen the film I can confirm that it does fit that description, it’s just you need a mind like Wes Anderson’s to imagine what that looks like.
You can’t really pin a genre on this film, but by now Writer/Director Wes Anderson has pretty much carved out his very own genre. Nobody makes films that feel like his. The French Dispatch, at its most basic, is a comedy. But really it’s a series of vignettes that come together as a series of stories set in a small town called Ennui in France. Even the name of the town is a joke, and little touches of detail like that are what I really appreciated about this film. The attention to detail is unrivalled.
Wes Anderson keeps the camera still more than anyone else would dare, each frame is treated more like a painting than a film. That stillness means everything in frame is deliberate and I imagine there is loads of subtle touches throughout the film I missed on top of the details I noticed. Having seen Dune at the weekend, following it up with this is a great showcase in the range of visual styles that can be equally stunning.
The cast is littered with talent, the different vignettes giving licence to really through around what feel like lead roles to multiple actors. Each “writer” each piece of the film is based on is a character in their own stories, and they’re surrounded by other characters that are just as three dimensional. Owen Wilson, Lea Seydoux, Tilda Swinton, Bill Murray, Jeffrey Wright, Benecio Del Toro and more all have what I’d consider big roles. The fact they all feel like they work is a great combination their performances, the direction, and the writing all being captured in that distinct visual style.
So far, so good? All those elements above, the editing, the sound and score, it’s all really well executed. It feels wrong to lavish all this praise on The French Dispatch and then say this but it’s unfortunately true; I would not recommend seeing this film.
As a filmmaker, and as someone who is really into the art of filmmaking, it’s a genuine treat. The stories themselves though did not do anything for me. They are all fun little short films their own right, really well done. The issue I have with the film is that none of it plays into each other. There is an overarching story about what’s happening at the company itself revolving around Bill Murray, but I honestly felt no attachment to that.
I enjoyed moments consistently throughout this film and my appreciation for it as an exercise in filmmaking is endless. It never made me care though. I wanted to see how all these stories come together to a head, but they never do. That left me feeling a bit cold on the film. The French Dispatch is simultaneously marvellous and meh. Perhaps that was the idea, the town in the film is called Ennui after all.
Good: A technically brilliant execution of a film.
Bad: I wanted to care, and it never made me do so.
TL;DR – The French Dispatch is a very good film that left me feeling unsatisfied despite enjoying all the elements.