My Top 5 Movies for 2021: The Redo (Part 2)

The French Dispatch

…is writer-director Wes Anderson’s most recent film. As with all his movies, the eccentric characters and the way they interact with each other and their exquisitely detailed environments really are the story. The plot is but a conveyance for them to dance into our lives and weave their quirky magic. You could say that The French Dispatch is the most Wes Anderson-like movie Wes Anderson has ever made. Like all his previous films, TFD is a comic fantasy of absurd proportions.

The film takes its name after a 20th century newspaper set in the fictional French Village of (wait for it), Ennui-sur-Blasé. It is said be modeled after The NewYorker and the staff journalists there. The movie is, in Anderson’s own words, a portmanteau, an enactment of unrelated articles written for the final edition of the paper following the publisher’s untimely death. Actor, producer and director Bob Balaban (nominated for an Academy Award for co-producing the Robert Altman film Gosford Park) describes it as a movie about storytelling.

FTD features a large ensemble cast with hundreds of extras populating the five odd, unconnected stories. If you really study the piece though, the stories have the energy of five act structure with the first serving as an introduction to the paper and how it came into being. The central three, stylistically different feature stories, build tension while showing how the writers never maintain objective neutrality. The last “act”covers the death of the editor/publisher which serves as a denouement.

Bill Murray plays the editor/publisher and the movie also stars Tilda Swinton, Benecio del Toro, Owen Wilson, Lea Seydoux, Timothy Chalamet, Adrien Brody and Frances McDormand. They’re all on their game and bring Anderson’s devilishly nutty world to life. Nobody stands above the others in performance. It’s as though they all agreed to blend like voices in a choir to serve the collective whole.

The downside for me is the lack of breathing room in the film. There is so much visual stimulus, story detail and complex interweaving of plots and subplots watching the movie was like eating a very heavy 5 course meal in mid afternoon. I felt over-fed and almost tired. In fact when I got home I took a nap to digest everything ingested.

I’m not so sure that’s a bad thing. Anderson seems to have intended to overwhelm our senses, perhaps in the same way the journalists in the film were overtaken by their subject matter. The French Dispatch is certainly a fine film, perhaps Anderson’s masterpiece. At least until he gives us his next work, Asteroid City, which is another ensemble piece starring Bill Murray. Asteroid is currently in production outside of Madrid, Spain.

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