After a year of anxious delay, Wes Anderson’s latest film The French Dispatch celebrated its world premiere at the 74th Festival de Cannes. This marks Anderson’s second time at Cannes, his first visit being in 2012 to premiere Moonrise Kingdom. This is also his first live-action feature since 2014’s The Grand Budapest Hotel. Anderson’s ode to French culture shines as one of the centerpieces of Cannes’ film lineup.
The film follows an anthological format, displaying three main stories published in The French Dispatch Magazine. With a vast powerhouse cast, the stories are practically their own film within a film. The first story “The Artist” is the clear standout of the three. Benicio del Toro and Léa Seydoux unapologetically steal the show with electrifying performances. This story is also the most coherent, maintaining a grip on its message and never losing itself to Anderson’s style.
Unfortunately, this does not apply to the remaining stories. The second story, which features Timothée Chalamet and Frances McDormand in stand-out performances, centers around activist college students in the midst of an all-out protest in the fictional city of Ennui. Here, it whips back and forth so harshly that you can’t help but get lost.
But despite the rabbit holes it falls into story-wise, the production design and cinematography are some of Anderson’s best. Exciting on-screen set changes and strictly intentional camera work move you to bear witness to a masterclass in visual storytelling. Despite the albeit messy structure, the central message hits home when discussing the very real conflicts within social rights movements.
The final story is honestly the film’s messiest. Featuring Jeffrey Wright and Mathieu Almaric, the point of the story is that Wright’s character loses the point entirely. As convoluted as it is, I believe it is meant to emphasize when a journalist loses themselves in a story. They end up writing something that wasn’t the initial goal but their journey during investigation just so happened to veer down that path.
What starts as a story on a famous chef evolves into a suspenseful thriller that puts him in one of the most dangerous situations of his life. A comically pretentious chronicle of a very eventful night in Ennui. This act does feature some of the film’s most creative visual storytelling, intertwining animation into the scenes with surprising ease. If nothing else, this is where multiple watches will be most beneficial.
The French Dispatch is a deep dive off a cliff into Wes Anderson’s iconic style, familiar and experimental all at once. He explores his on-the-nose directing with new camera techniques and complex production design. His eye for detail is quite honestly overwhelming at times, overloading the viewer’s senses with quick wit dialogue as well as fast-paced cinematography. The stories become unnecessarily complicated. However, it definitely does not take away from one’s enjoyment of the film. It is not only a love letter to journalism, but also a love letter to fans of Anderson’s work and a promise of an evolving style for future films to come. – Ileana Meléndez
The film is starring Benicio del Toro, Adrien Brody, Tilda Swinton, Léa Seydoux, Frances McDormand, Timothée Chalamet, Lyna Khoudri, Jeffrey Wright, and Mathieu Amalric.
The French Dispatch will be available in theaters in the U.S. on October 16, 2021.