From pastel colours to music, there has always been a French filter over Wes Anderson’s
films, but with his latest work, he formally signs his love letter to La République - countless homages to his beloved French cinéma are visually disseminated through the perfect frames (even a carbon copy of Jacques Tati’s house in Mon Oncle). With The French Dispatch, we are presented with Wes Anderson’s most creative and inventive stylistic piece, yet at the expense of empathy for the camera-looking characters. Structured as an edition of the fictional publication that gives the title to the film, with one obituary, 3 articles and one end note, it can feels a bit like rushing through the Louvre a la Bande A Part, without having the chance to stop, observe, and meditate over the myriad of canvases saturated with beauty and noteworthy details. Glorious set pieces are filled with a plethora of familiar faces - Wes Anderson’s go-to ensemble of Oscar-winning collaborators - and it’s comforting to see them all reunited in yet another colourful utopia, where everything is neatly placed and people are bribed with marron glaces (Adrien Brody is once again obsessed with a painting!).
The opening obituary belongs to Bill Murray’s character, the chief editor of the paper. His rosebud is not as cryptic as Kane’s, as his last will is well outlined: his newspaper shall end with him, printing its ultimate, legendary edition after his demise in 1975. The three-chaptered anthology recounts the newsworthy articles of an imprisoned tortured artist’s erotic modern paintings, the 1968 revolts with students fighting behind barricades, and the rookie kidnapping of the son of a refined foodie chief of police. Being Wes Anderson allows the director to indulge in his very own stylistic trademarks, and nothing is left to chance in the carefully designed compositions. Even the subtitles appear on screen unconventionally as a further artistic medium to underline his full control over the frame. Adding to his iconic symmetrical shots, this film offers an irresistible animation sequence and several fanciful make-believe freeze frames which only the camera can freely navigate.
However, being Wes Anderson also means that viewers are well accustomed to his visual genius and are looking for something more, having gargantuan expectations for a life changing experience. If we all fell in love with Zero’s romance in the lobby of the Grand Budapest Hotel, and we learnt the value of forgiveness in Royal Tenembaum’s living room, or even the preciousness of family and friendship on board of the Darjeeling Limited and Zissou’s submarine… The French Dispatch lands dry on the emotional front. There is no main character to follow, nor a quest to be accomplished, nor a desire to be fulfilled. It doesn’t allow enough time to feel a genuine empathetic connection with any of the characters in the short stories. At the end of the screening, I surely had a good time but I wasn’t moved by its melancholic aftertaste. Half of the audience clapped till the end of the credits, while another half dared to loudly boo it, perhaps disappointed, perhaps prejudiced against a beloved but popular filmmaker. The reactions were perfectly split, just like the symmetry that makes Mr. Anderson so unique.