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In a 2019 interview with Charente Libre , Wes Anderson said that his new movie, "The French Dispatch" was "not easy to explain." He's right, it's not, and any explanation would deconstruct it in a way to make it sound even more incomprehensible. It's like taking apart a clock to see how it works, and in so doing you no longer know what time it is. A clock is an apt metaphor for Anderson's style, present in all of his movies, but to an extreme degree here. Made up of a dizzying array of whirring intersecting teeny tiny parts, "The French Dispatch" ticks forward relentlessly, never stopping to breathe, barely pausing for reflection. "The French Dispatch" lacks some of the more endearing qualities of his earlier features—the prep school shenanigans of " Rushmore ," the intimate family dynamic of " The Royal Tenenbaums " and " The Darjeeling Limited ," or the kid-centered " Moonrise Kingdom ." By contrast, "The French Dispatch" holds the audience at a remove, and is a stronger film for it. Watching Anderson follow his obsession to the outer limits (it's hard to imagine how much further he could go) is fascinating. The movie may be hard to explain, but it's very fun to watch. It's a fast-paced delirious movie about a very slow unchanging world.

In "The French Dispatch," the object of Anderson's obsession ("object" is a key word) is The New Yorker , specifically The New Yorker  in the time of finicky founder/editor Harold Ross, and his daunting roster of writers— James Thurber , A.J. Liebling, Joseph Mitchell, Rosamond Bernier, James Baldwin —all of whom were given enormous leeway in terms of subject matter and process, but edited within an inch of their lives to align their prose with the aggressive New Yorker  house style.

The fictionalized New Yorker  is called The French Dispatch , published out of a little French town called Ennui-sur-Blasé, although it started in Liberty, Kansas, where editor Arthur Howitzer, Jr. ( Bill Murray ) was born and raised. (In one of the many "A-ha" moments of trivia sprinkled throughout: the magazine was originally called Picnic . Playwright William Inge , most famous for his 1953 play Picnic , was born in Independence, Kansas. Liberty, Independence, get it? None of this means anything, but it's fun if you pick up on it.) Howitzer is surrounded by a loyal staff overseeing a collective of eccentric writers, all busy at work completing pieces for the upcoming issue. "The French Dispatch" doesn't delve into these characters' lives but instead focuses on their work, and the movie's structure is that of an issue of the magazine, where you literally step into the pages, and "read" three separate stories. But first, there is the Jacques-Tati-style opening sequence, clearly a riff on The New Yorker  staple, "The Talk of the Town," with Herbsaint Sazerac ( Owen Wilson , jaunty in a black beret and turtleneck) bicycling through Ennui-sur-Blasé, showing us the sights (and speaking directly to the camera, causing some unfortunate collisions).

The first magazine story centers on Moses Rosenthaler ( Benicio Del Toro ), a genius artist serving a life sentence for homicide, and engaged in a love affair with Simone ( Léa Seydoux ), his muse, promoter, and prison guard. Adrien Brody plays Julian Cadazio, Moses' representation in the hifalutin' art world, wheeling and dealing to get Moses' work out there. The second story is a whimsical pantomime of the 1968 student protests in Paris, presented in Godardian pastiche, with Timothée Chalamet as Zeffirelli, a moody revolutionary (is there any other kind?), and Frances McDormand as Lucinda Krementz, the French Dispatch writer whose objectivity is compromised when she inserts herself into the story. (This section is clearly inspired by Mavis Gallant's 1968 coverage of the protests for The New Yorker , "The Events in May: A Paris Notebook".) The final story shows the attempt by writer Roebuck Wright ( Jeffrey Wright )—a mashup of James Baldwin and A.J. Liebling (with a little M.F.K. Fisher thrown in)—to profile a legendary chef named Nescaffier ( Steve Park ), who works his magic in the police department kitchen. Each story is told with its own style, with Anderson utilizing animation, graphics, still lifes, visual puns, and gags, all held together by the thread of Alexandre Desplat's score, and Anderson's single-minded sense of mission.

Very few filmmakers have as distinct a fingerprint as Wes Anderson. (There's an entire book called Accidentally Wes Anderson , made up of photographs from around the world of buildings and landscapes that look like Anderson shots.) There are two things that obsess him: objects and nostalgia. Prosaic everyday objects transform in the context of Anderson's miniaturized diorama world. He views objects the way the artist Joseph Cornell viewed them. Cornell was an obsessive collector of what was deemed "junk" (marbles, old maps, tiny glass jars), junk which turned into magical talismans when placed in his now-world-famous boxes. Cornell's fetishism is apparent in his work, making it all slightly unnerving in really beautiful ways. There's a fine line between obsession and fetishism, but in art that fine line doesn't much matter. Anderson's objects glow from his detailed attention: he cares about each and every one of them. A line from The Picture of Dorian Gray  comes to mind: "It is only shallow people who do not judge by appearances. The true mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible." Anderson perceives the mystery in the visible.

Anderson's obsession with objects has to do with his other obsession of nostalgia. Nostalgia is universal, but it is also tricky. What one person yearns for in the past may be someone else's nightmare (and vice versa). In a cliched film, nostalgia expresses itself in a golden glow (assumed to be universal). Anderson's nostalgia isn't like that. His is extremely specific. There's a reason some people find his work alienating. You're in the presence of a true obsessive, that's why. For example, if you don't yearn to live inside J.D. Salinger's Franny and Zooey , then you won't easily enter into Anderson's dreamspace. The same is true of "The French Dispatch." What is most interesting about this, though, is that Anderson is nostalgic for things that pre-date his own life. He is nostalgic for fictional worlds, for objects now considered obsolete, for rhythms of a long-ago time he didn't even experience. This is not to say his nostalgia is not personal. It is. Another quote, this time from Nancy Lemann's eccentric novel The Fiery Pantheon : "She had a nostalgia for a life she had never lived."

This is not so much what "The French Dispatch" is about, as what it made me think  about. It's strange that such a crowded, dazzling, visually-insistent film leaves so much space for free association, but it does. Now that's  endearing.

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Sheila O'Malley

Sheila O'Malley

Sheila O'Malley received a BFA in Theatre from the University of Rhode Island and a Master's in Acting from the Actors Studio MFA Program. Read her answers to our Movie Love Questionnaire here .

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The French Dispatch movie poster

The French Dispatch (2021)

Rated R for graphic nudity, some sexual references and language.

108 minutes

Bill Murray as Arthur Howitzer, Jr.

Benicio Del Toro as Moses Rosenthaler

Frances McDormand as Lucinda Krementz

Jeffrey Wright as Roebuck Wright

Adrien Brody as Julian Cadazio

Tilda Swinton as J. K. L. Berensen

Owen Wilson as Herbsaint Sazerac

Timothée Chalamet as Zeffirelli

Léa Seydoux as Simone

Mathieu Amalric as Le Commissaire

Lyna Khoudri as Juliette

Steve Park as Nescaffier

Liev Schreiber as T.V. Host

Elisabeth Moss as Alumna

Edward Norton as The Chauffeur

Willem Dafoe as Albert 'The Abacus'

Lois Smith as Upshur 'Maw' Clampette

Saoirse Ronan as Principal Showgirl

Christoph Waltz as Paul Duval

Cécile De France as Mrs. B

Guillaume Gallienne as Mr. B

Jason Schwartzman as Hermès Jones

Tony Revolori as Young Rosenthaler

Rupert Friend as Drill-Sergeant

Henry Winkler as Uncle Joe

Bob Balaban as Uncle Nick

Hippolyte Girardot as Chou-fleur

Anjelica Huston as The Narrator (voice)

Denis Ménochet as Prison Guard

  • Wes Anderson

Writer (story by)

  • Roman Coppola
  • Hugo Guinness
  • Jason Schwartzman


  • Robert Yeoman
  • Andrew Weisblum
  • Alexandre Desplat

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Movie review: 'The French Dispatch'

Headshot of Scott Detrow, 2018

Scott Detrow

Glen Weldon at NPR headquarters in Washington, D.C., March 19, 2019. (photo by Allison Shelley)

Glen Weldon

Bedatri D. Choudhury

Watching The French Dispatch is like seeing an issue of The New Yorker come to life. Wes Anderson's new film is based on articles of a fictional magazine published in a fictional city in France.


The new film "The French Dispatch" is kind of like seeing a classic issue of The New Yorker come to life. It's based on the colorful articles of a fictional magazine run by a grumpy but respectable editor, played by Bill Murray.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Arthur Howitzer Jr. transformed the series of travelogue columns into The French Dispatch, a factual weekly report on the subjects of world politics.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: The arts, high and low, and diverse stories of human interest.

DETROW: Yeah, hearing that clip, you know exactly who directed this movie - Wes Anderson. We have two moviegoers with us now who are eager to talk about it. Glen Weldon is the host of NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast, and Bedatri D. Choudhury is a film critic and cultural journalist. Good morning.

GLEN WELDON, BYLINE: Good morning.


DETROW: I would be curious to hear how both of you would describe what exactly a Wes Anderson movie is. Glen, why don't you go first with that assignment?

WELDON: I mean, going into any Wes Anderson film, you know two things. One, it's going to be meticulously constructed. That's baked into his set design, the cinematography, the dialogue and the performances. Part 2, he is never going to let you forget that. His stuff is all about the artifice, the theater of it all. You know, in this film, he throws in animation. One sequence becomes a literal theatrical production, which is why his stuff is so divisive, right? If you like it, you call it stylized and idiosyncratic and imaginative, but if you don't like it, you call it mannered and arch and the T-word, twee. I'm in the first camp.

DETROW: What about you, Bedatri? What is, like, the definitive Wes Anderson thing for you?

CHOUDHURY: I mean, to add to everything Glen said, I think it's also the way Wes Anderson designs a plot. He's not trying to conceal things from you. Everything's out there for you to see. And it's out there in a very expansive way, so you may miss it, but he's not hiding anything from you.

DETROW: So Glen, set the scene for us. Is this movie in a fancy hotel or a ship or some sort of fantastical stop-motion animation setting? Where are we going here?

WELDON: We are in the fictional French town of Ennui-sur-Blase. And as you said, this is a love letter to The New Yorker, specifically to writers like Mavis Gallant and A.J. Liebling and James Baldwin. It is also a love letter to classic French cinema. And I'm going to go way out on a limb here, Scott, and suggest that that particular Venn Diagram might intersect with an NPR listener or two.

DETROW: (Laughter) Probably. Bedatri, I have heard that this movie is broken up in an interesting way.


DETROW: What's the structure, and why does that matter, going in?

CHOUDHURY: The film has kind of three acts, and it's divided into the backstories and - or you could say the evolution stories of three articles that come out in this issue of this magazine, which is called The French Dispatch. And interestingly enough, this magazine brings the world of France and the happenings in this little French town to people in Kansas. The readers are in Kansas, and I think it - I mean, I would say it works beautifully.

DETROW: Does this movie work for somebody who doesn't necessarily name-check classic New Yorker writers like we all just did in this conversation?

CHOUDHURY: No, I would say it does beautifully because, you know, I did not grow up in this country, and I did not grow up reading The New Yorker. I think just by, you know, the strength of the story, I think the film holds pretty well.

WELDON: Yeah, and I would say Wes Anderson's films are just pleasures to watch. The act of watching them - you're going to be sitting in that theater grinning from ear to ear, just visually stimulated. I do think there is an emotional heartbeat to this film that I think is going to carry you through.

DETROW: All right. All three of us clearly in the pro-Wes Anderson camp.


WELDON: (Laughter) Yep.

DETROW: That's NPR's Glen Weldon, as well as Bedatri D. Choudhury. Thank you so much to both of you.

CHOUDHURY: Thank you so much.

WELDON: Thank you.

DETROW: The film is called "The French Dispatch." It's out today.

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“The French Dispatch,” Reviewed: Wes Anderson’s Most Freewheeling Film

movie review for the french dispatch

By Richard Brody

A group of people on a sofa.

“The French Dispatch” should finally dispel a common misgiving about the movies of Wes Anderson—namely, that there is something enervated, static, or precious about the extremes of the decorative artifice of which his comedy is made. “The French Dispatch” is perhaps Anderson’s best film to date. It is certainly his most accomplished. And, for all its whimsical humor, it is an action film, a great one, although Anderson’s way of displaying action is unlike that of any other filmmaker. His movies often rest upon an apparent paradox between the refinement of his methods and the violence of his subject matter. In “The French Dispatch,” it is all the more central, given his literary focus: the title is also the name of a fictitious magazine that’s explicitly modelled on The New Yorker and some of its classic journalistic stars. Anderson sends writers out in search of stories, and what they find turns out to be a world of trouble, a world in which aesthetics and power are inseparable, with all the moral complications and ambivalences that this intersection entails.

Anderson’s fictional publication operates between 1925, the year of its founding by Arthur Howitzer, Jr. (Bill Murray), and 1975, the year of Howitzer’s death and (by his testamentary decree) the magazine’s as well. Unlike The New Yorker, The French Dispatch is based in France, in the made-up town of Ennui-sur-Blasé, where young Howitzer decided to prolong a vacation more or less forever by transforming the Sunday supplement of the Liberty, Kansas Evening Sun —a newspaper owned by his father—into a travelogue that soon morphed into a literary sensation. The movie takes the form of the magazine’s final issue, which features Howitzer’s obituary; a brief travelogue by a writer named Herbsaint Sazerac (Owen Wilson), which shows, in a thumbnail sketch, how the publication’s tone and substance has evolved; and three long feature articles. The features, each running about a half hour, catch the grand preoccupations and varied subjects of the magazine’s writers, and the combination of style and substance that marks their literary work—and Anderson’s cinema.

“The French Dispatch” contains an overwhelming and sumptuous profusion of details. This is true of its décor and costumes, its variety of narrative forms and techniques (live action, animation, split screens, flashbacks, and leaps ahead, among many others), its playful breaking of the dramatic frame with reflexive gestures and conspicuous stagecraft, its aphoristic and whiz-bang dialogue, and the range of its performances, which veer in a heartbeat from the outlandishly facetious to the painfully candid. Far from being an inert candy box or display case, the movie bursts and leaps with a sense of immediacy and impulsivity; the script (which Anderson co-wrote with Roman Coppola, Hugo Guinness, and Jason Schwartzman) bubbles over with the sense of joy found in discovery and invention. Even its static elements are set awhirl—actions and dialogue performed straight into the camera, scenes of people sitting at tables joined with rapid and rhythmically off-kilter editing, tableaux vivants that freeze scenes of turmoil into contemplative wonders—and take flight by way of a briskly moving camera.

For all its meticulous preparation, the movie swings, spontaneous, unhinged, and it’s precisely this sensory and intellectual overload that gives rise to the misperception that it is static, fussy, tight. On first viewing, audience members run the risk of having their perceptual circuits shorted. The effort even to make sense of what’s going on—to parse the action into its constituent elements, to assemble its narratives, its moods, and its ideas—leads to inevitable oversimplifications, the reduction of roiling cinematic energy into mere mental snapshots. In my mind, it’s necessary to see “The French Dispatch” twice in order to see it fully even once, which I mean as a high artistic compliment. I felt the same way about “ Fantastic Mr. Fox ,” in part because of the microcosmic details that each frame of the film exuded, and “The French Dispatch” is by far the richer movie. Anderson’s convergence of multiple narrative frames into a single scene of action, his leaping about in time and space to provide different perspectives, and his nested and frame-breaking modes of storytelling are all so daringly complex that, by comparison, they make Alain Resnais seem like Sidney Lumet.

The simplest of the film’s stories is Sazerac’s introductory sketch of Ennui, in which the roving reporter—speaking his story into the camera while zipping through the town on his bike—dispels the idea of an enticing and picturesque travelogue by considering the town’s pickpockets, sex workers, predatory choirboys, its poor and unfulfilled. His inquisitively unstinting view of the town (involving bodies fished from the river Blasé) also involves his own kinds of trouble, whether it’s falling into a manhole or being pulled off his bike by young miscreants—a pair of gags that Anderson realizes with exquisite comedic minimalism and lead to Sazerac repairing his bike while in story conference with Howitzer.

The art critic and historian J. K. L. Berensen (Tilda Swinton) tells the first feature story, of Moses Rosenthaler (Benicio Del Toro), an artist and a psychopath who becomes world-famous while incarcerated for murder in a high-security prison in Ennui. Rosenthaler owes his career to a prison guard named Simone (Léa Seydoux), who is an unconventional muse: she poses for him and is his lover but is also his virtual boss and actual commander. Upon getting an inkling of his great talent—and feeling the spark of connection between them—she takes him and his career firmly and sternly in hand, for her own long-term purposes. (The relationship is intensely erotic, on terms that Simone strictly dictates.) Rosenthaler also owes his acclaim to an art dealer named Julien Cadazio (Adrien Brody), a fellow-inmate, convicted of tax fraud, who recruits Rosenthaler for his gallery and then manages to bring a major collector—Upshur (Maw) Clampette (Lois Smith), from Liberty, Kansas, and her entourage (including Berensen, who once worked for her as a consultant)—to the prison for a show that turns mortally chaotic.

Next, the political correspondent Lucinda Krementz (Frances McDormand) reports on a student uprising in Ennui, undated but clearly modelled on the events in Paris in May, 1968. The leader of the students, Zeffirelli B. (Timothée Chalamet), is at the forefront of a demand that young men be allowed into women’s dormitories. (Something of the sort actually happened as a crucial prelude to the May events.) Krementz, who dines with Zeffirelli’s parents, finds him in the bathtub writing a manifesto while the police are breaking up demonstrations with tear gas. She helps with his manifesto and they become lovers, but their relationship sparks conflict between the blithe, rock-music-loving Zeffirelli and another student leader, Juliette (Lyna Khoudri), an intensely earnest hard-core ideologue. (There’s a key debate over the concept of journalistic objectivity that reveals Krementz’s fluid, participatory sense of journalism.) A standoff with the police that’s being resolved by a chess game between Zeffirelli and the commissioner devolves into a police riot. Ultimately, the students’ cause, as Krementz reports it, both “obliterated a thousand years of republican authority in less than a fortnight” and gave rise to millions of posters and T-shirts depicting the rebels’ “likeness.”

The last feature, by Roebuck Wright (Jeffrey Wright), is the most hyperbolically artificial of the three, and also the most sharply poignant. Wright is a Black homosexual American author who chose exile in Ennui. He became a food writer, and his report here is centered on Lieutenant Nescaffier (Steve Park), the greatest chef of police cuisine, an idiosyncratic specialty that Wright parses in detail and that plants him at the table of the Commissaire (Mathieu Amalric). The meal is meant to be a delight but turns into a violent nightmare when, days after a horrific gang war, the Commissaire’s young son, Gigi (Winsen Ait Hellal), is kidnapped and the entire department is mobilized to locate and rescue the boy. Wright tells his story from the stage of a TV talk show (the host is played by Liev Schreiber, with a brilliant deadpan reserve), where he proves his “typographic memory” by reciting his article verbatim. It then gets dramatized onscreen, with Wright talking to the camera as the events unfold. Yet the story that Wright tells—about crimes committed by gangsters, about crimes of horrific brutality committed by police officers, about daring rescues at great personal sacrifice—is also a personal one, involving repressions and persecutions endured by homosexuals (on the charge, as he puts it, that they “love the wrong way”), and one of the struggle of exile. It becomes all the more personal when he’s asked by the talk-show host to explain his decision to write about food, and when he discusses with Nescaffier (who’s an immigrant of Asian ethnicity) the political uneasiness of their lives in exile.

All of these stories are realized with dazzling stagecraft and ingenious artifice, starting, most simply, with frequent switches back and forth between the use of black-and-white and color. Rosenthaler in his youth is played by Tony Revolori—and, when he hits his eleventh year in prison, he’s played by Del Toro, who enters the frame, bids Revolori farewell, and, after removing Rosenthaler’s I.D. badge from around the other actor’s neck, puts it on and takes his place onscreen. In the Café Le Sans Blague, in Ennui, where the student protesters hang out, the building’s façade slides away to reveal the activities of its up-in-arms customers—and, the second time a façade slides out, Anderson shows a workman pushing it offscreen. A flash forward shows the performance of a play about the military service of Zeffirelli’s deserter friend Mitch-Mitch (Mohamed Belhadjine)—a staging that’s both droll and physically impossible. What’s more, Anderson adds effervescent cinephilic winks to the action, high and low: Juliette and Zeffirelli seemingly ride off together into a French sunset on her scooter, in images of an exaltedly rhapsodic, abstracted isolation from the setting, reminiscent of those from Leos Carax’s “Mauvais Sang.” Howitzer’s first French Dispatch office is on the fifth floor of a building matching one from Jacques Tati’s “ Mon Oncle .” The police hunt for Gigi leads to a colossal chase scene rendered in a starkly vivid animation style reminiscent of the giddily threadbare “ Dick Tracy Show ” cartoons.

Anderson approaches serious matters not by displaying the authentic pain that they entail but, rather, by letting it ricochet off other, related subjects—he arouses emotion more than he displays it, and, in the process, associates ideas to the feelings. His sense of extreme artifice allows him to bring together, into salient relationship, subjects that belong together, whether or not they’re often found together in real life as clearly and blatantly as in his films. His views of society’s turbulence, individuals’ violence, and institutions’ cruelty are inseparable from the sense of style that heroic resisters bring to it—and that group includes both the people who confront crushing power and those who report on it. (They’re sometimes the same people.) “The French Dispatch” is filled with the practical aesthetics of clothing, architecture, furniture, food, design, and discourse; it’s also filled with beautiful deeds and sublime gestures, steadfast love and physical courage, amid hostile conditions. There’s a long-familiar tradition in film of refinement meshing with evil, as with the epicurean sadism of movie Nazis and arch-criminals. It’s a demagogic trope that comforts viewers who presume that, conversely, their ordinary tastes must be a sign of their ordinary decency, too. But Anderson understands that the refinement of style can be a way of outwardly facing down the power of the world with one’s inner personal imperatives. Like such artists as Ernest Hemingway and Howard Hawks, he brings together the beauty of heroism and the heroism of beauty. In a sublime gesture of his own, he celebrates not only unsung heroes and those who tell their stories but also those who, like Howitzer and his staff of grammarians and illustrators, provide an accompaniment as stylish and as substantial as the adventures and inventions themselves.

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‘The French Dispatch’ Review: Remember Magazines?

Wes Anderson pays antic tribute to the old New Yorker and its far-flung correspondents.

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movie review for the french dispatch

By A.O. Scott

Ever since it showed up in Cannes this past summer, “ The French Dispatch ” has been described as “ a love letter to journalism .” This isn’t inaccurate — you love to see it when deadline scribblers are played by the likes of Jeffrey Wright, Frances McDormand and Tilda Swinton — but it’s nonetheless a little misleading.

The movie is not Wes Anderson ’s version of “ Spotlight ,” in which humbly dressed reporters heroically take on power, injustice and corruption. Moral crusades are as alien to Anderson’s sensibility as drab khakis. What “The French Dispatch” celebrates is something more specific than everyday newspapering and also something more capacious. Anderson has inscribed a billet-doux to The New Yorker in its mid-20th-century glory years that is, at the same time, an ardent, almost orgiastic paean to the pleasures of print.

He might be the most passionately literary of living filmmakers, the one whose movies are most like books. Maybe that’s a strange thing to say about an artist with such a recognizable visual aesthetic, but Anderson’s meticulous pictures are themselves evidence of his bookishness. The sound design of “The French Dispatch,” enlivened by Alexandre Desplat’s playful and knowing score, is punctuated by the scratching of pencils and the clacking of typewriter keys. When a character is credited, during a television interview, with having a photographic memory, he is quick to correct the record. “I possess a typographic memory,” he insists, and the distinction offers a clue about how Anderson’s mind works.

He has always drawn inspiration from writers: J.D. Salinger in “The Royal Tenenbaums” ; Roald Dahl in “Fantastic Mr. Fox” ; Stefan Zweig in “The Grand Budapest Hotel” ; an archive of famous and forgotten New Yorker contributors this time around. Beyond such tributes, Anderson uses the tools of cinema to approximate the experience of reading. Watching one of his movies, you are always aware of the presence of his style, and of the dense weave of references, rhetorical curlicues and half-hidden meanings through which a story takes shape. It takes some effort to follow along, and you often feel like you’re not getting everything, but that’s part of the enjoyment.

The exasperation, too, maybe. Anderson isn’t really a polarizing figure; there isn’t much to argue about. He’s a taste you either enjoy or don’t, like cilantro or Campari. “The French Dispatch” is an herbarium of his preoccupations and enthusiasms, an anthology film laid out like a magazine, with a short front-of-the-book piece and three meaty features, all decked out with editorial bric-a-brac and a somber epilogue that may be the best part.

The French Dispatch of the Liberty, Kansas Evening Sun is the full name of a weekly periodical that isn’t quite The New Yorker but also isn’t quite not The New Yorker. Its editor, Arthur Howitzer Jr., has a few things in common with Harold Ross and William Shawn, the men who together and sequentially established The New Yorker as a pinnacle of middlebrow sophistication in the decades before and after World War II. Like Ross, Howitzer is from the western part of Middle America (Kansas, rather than Colorado), and like Shawn he’s a soft-spoken perfectionist. Really, though, he’s Bill Murray in a Wes Anderson film, which is to say the ideal grown-up, an embodiment of impish, saturnine charm and eccentric integrity.

Howitzer’s magazine, originally a supplement to his family’s small-town newspaper, is based in Ennui-sur-Blasé, a French metropolis that isn’t quite Paris but isn’t quite not Paris, either. (The film was shot mostly in Angoulême , a small city in southwestern France.) Some of the staff will be recognizable to collectors of New Yorker lore — is that supposed to be Ved Mehta? Joseph Mitchell? Eleanor Gould? — but most are amalgams and embellishments.

For example: Roebuck Wright, as played by Jeffrey Wright, resembles James Baldwin in his speech patterns, body language and manner of dress. But the article he contributes to The French Dispatch is more like something A.J. Lieblin g would have undertaken — an excursion into the arcane (and in this case wholly fanciful) reaches of French gastronomy. The mash-up, like much in the movie, seems both preposterous and somehow touchingly apt.

It’s not really possible to spoil any of the major episodes, but it’s also foolish to try to summarize them. The cast is as enormous and as heterogeneous as the list of names in a New Yorker holiday “Greetings, Friends” poem:

Mathieu Amalric! Edward Norton! Elisabeth Moss and Jason Schwartzman! Adrien Brody, Lyna Khoudri, Owen Wilson, even Fonzie!

And so on. The shifts in tone from melancholy to antic are an Anderson signature, heightened by switches from black-and-white to color, from live action to animation, and from what could be the ’30s or ’40s to what might be the ’60s or ’70s.

After an introduction (with voice-over from Anjelica Huston) and a prose-poem tour of Ennui (conducted by Wilson on a bicycle), we settle into a stretch of what the real New Yorker liked to call “long fact” pieces. Each feature is, in effect, a double portrait: of the writer at work on the story and of a charismatic, elusive central character, set against a busy backdrop of mayhem and intrigue. Roebuck Wright is paired with a precinct-house chef (Stephen Park); Lucinda Krementz (McDormand) with a rebellious student (Timothée Chalamet); J.K.L. Berensen (Swinton) with a tormented painter (Benicio Del Toro). The fact that both of the women writers sleep with their sources suggests that this love letter to journalism might have benefited from an editor with an eye for repetition and cliché.

In any issue of any publication, some pieces will be stronger than others. “The Private Dining Room of the Police Commissioner,” Wright’s culinary crime story, is hectic and complicated, with a nice, bittersweet payoff. Swinton’s offering, “The Concrete Masterpiece,” with Del Toro in a straitjacket and Léa Seydoux in and out of an asylum-guard’s uniform is, to me, both the silliest of the chapters and the most moving. “Revisions to a Manifesto,” with McDormand chronicling a May ’68-ish student protest (and her affair with one of its leaders, played by Chalamet), struck me as the thinnest and most strenuous in its whimsy, offering a too-clever pastiche of real-world events that flattens and trivializes them.

On the other hand, it reminded me of “Masculin Féminin,” one of my favorite Godard movies. A certain amount of the delight you find in “The French Dispatch” may derive from your appreciation of the cultural moments and artifacts it evokes. Anderson expresses a fan’s zeal and a collector’s greed for both canonical works and weird odds and ends, a love for old modernisms that is undogmatic and unsentimental.

Which is not to say unfeeling. A sign above Howitzer’s office door says “No Crying,” and while a few tears are shed onscreen, the stories themselves leave the viewer’s eyes mostly dry. But there is something unmistakably elegiac in this dream of a bygone world. The French Dispatch existed for 50 years, shutting down in 1975, and “The French Dispatch” registers the loss of a particular set of values that blossomed in that era and have since fallen on hard times.

The madman’s work painted on Ennui’s asylum walls in “The Concrete Masterpiece” eventually finds a home in a Kansas museum “10 miles from the geographic center of the United States,” thanks to the good taste and business acumen of a prairie dowager (Lois Smith). That’s not a joke. She, Howitzer and the various misfits who turn up in Ennui represent an ideal of down-to-earth American cosmopolitanism, an approach to writing, culture and the world that is at once democratic and sophisticated, animated by curiosity and leavened with irony. The movie is a love letter to that spirit, and also a ghost story.

The French Dispatch Rated R. Sex, murder, cigarettes. Running time: 1 hour 48 minutes. In theaters.

A.O. Scott is a co-chief film critic. He joined The Times in 2000 and has written for the Book Review and The New York Times Magazine. He is also the author of “Better Living Through Criticism.” More about A.O. Scott

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‘The French Dispatch’ Review: Wes Anderson’s Dizzyingly Intricate Homage to 20th-Century Newsmen and Women

From Paris with love, the cult auteur dedicates this supercharged anthology film to the classic New Yorker reporters who’ve inspired him.

By Peter Debruge

Peter Debruge

Chief Film Critic

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The French Dispatch

Journalists are the heroes in “ The French Dispatch ,” so expect film critics to be a little bit biased in their embrace of Wes Anderson ’s latest. It flatters the field, after all, just not in the way that Pulitzer-centric mega-scoop sagas “All the President’s Men” or “Spotlight” may have done before. Anderson is more of a miniaturist, albeit one whose vision grows more expansive — and more impressive — with each successive project.

Here, the Texas-to-Paris transplant sets out to honor The New Yorker and its ilk, re-creating the joy of losing oneself in a 12,000-word article (or three) on the big screen while relocating the entire affair to his adoptive home. Set in the fictional city of Ennui-sur-Blasé — a cross between Paris and frozen-in-time Angoulême (where most of the exteriors were shot) — the film offers an expat’s-eye view of France, packaged as a series of clips from the eponymous publication.

What does that mean exactly? Well, this is an anthology film, one that consists of “an obituary, a travel guide and three feature articles.” So while there’s no overarching narrative or overlap between segments, Anderson is quite clearly the author of all five — for there is no living filmmaker with a more recognizable visual signature, and every frame of “The French Dispatch” is unmistakably his. Thus, the unconventional project succeeds in delivering that very particular hodgepodge pleasure of reading a well-curated issue from cover to cover.

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Off the top, the obituary is that of erstwhile French Dispatch founder and publisher Arthur Howitzer Jr. (Bill Murray). He was a man of many maxims (among them “Just try to make it sound like you wrote it that way on purpose” and “No crying”) who could spot and champion talent in unlikely form, even if it meant bailing out of jail someone he believed to be a nascent writer, like Roebuck Wright (Jeffrey Wright), a James Baldwin-esque dandy who recites every line of a wild-and-crazy kidnapping story by heart.

Today, journalists are expected to be moral, upstanding citizens with perfect grammar and even more impeccable ethics, but that couldn’t be less true of Howitzer’s crew. They consider “journalistic neutrality” to be a nonsense conceit, willfully injecting themselves into their own pieces. Frances McDormand plays the movie’s Mavis Gallant-like Lucinda Krementz, who reports on the student protests of May 1968 in the mostly black-and-white middle segment. She’s understandably intrigued by the young radical Zeffirelli B. (Timothée Chalamet), but rather than remain on the sidelines, she takes his virginity and improves his manifesto sur l’oreiller (or “on the pillow,” as the French so charmingly put it).

That’s as political as things get here, although relative to the rest of Anderson’s oeuvre — which typically falls somewhere between whimsical and twee — it’s a significant breakthrough to see the director engaging with sexuality and violence as aspects of real life. Yes, there’s still an ironic distance between such elements and the audience, but “The French Dispatch” feels less safe than Anderson’s earlier work, and that’s a good thing.

“I assure you it’s erotic,” culture hawk J.K.L. Berensen (Tilda Swinton) insists in “The Concrete Masterpiece,” a profile presented as an upscale art lecture dedicated to modern-art bad boy Moses Rosenthaler (a bestial Benicio del Toro), a convicted killer who found his muse (prison guard Léa Seydoux) in lockdown. The way Rosenthaler gushes, it’s fair to imagine this rarefied intellectual may have been seduced by more than just her artistic genius — which is a very subversive way of parodying the late and ever-so-proper L’oeil historian Rosamond Bernier.

The movie’s packed with inside jokes for audiences hip to the arts and culture scene of 1950s and ’60s New York and Paris. Back then, a great many American creatives hopped the Atlantic, chasing the Lost Generation glory of Ernest Hemingway and Gertrude Stein, and found a city that embraced those ahead of the curve back home. Nationalism is now on the rise across Europe, but in Anderson’s France, the pen is still mightier than Le Pen. The director resists saying anything too controversial about French politics, then or now, laughing off value judgments (it’s a punchline that talk-of-the-town Rosenthaler is a literal enfant terrible ) and personal causes (Zeffirelli fights for free access to the women’s dormitory, rather than taking a stand against imperialism).

Anderson’s characters may be caricatures of serious writers, and yet, the movie’s tone is more consistent with The New Yorker’s comedic contributors: James Thurber’s cartoons, Woody Allen’s absurdity, Steve Martin’s satirical treatment of artists, critics and other cultural charlatans. Where “The Grand Budapest Hotel” served as an homage to a single writer, Austrian novelist Stefan Zweig, “The French Dispatch” is Anderson’s arms-wide-open tribute to a generation of complicated geniuses, so the winks come as dense and dizzying as guilty-pleasure movie references do in a Quentin Tarantino picture.

It can be fun to play detective when presented with such a collage, but “The French Dispatch” is a first-class pastiche, and as such, all those influences have been recombined into something new and original. That’s good news for those who aren’t longtime readers of The New Yorker, since this squirrelly collection of shorts is meant to stand on its own. In the past, the director has been accused of making overly contrived dollhouse movies, and while he repeats many of his favorite tricks — toying with aspect ratios, centering characters in symmetric compositions, revealing a large building in intricate cross-section — this time it feels as if there’s a full world teeming beyond the carefully controlled edges of the frame.

From the beginning, we’re told that The French Dispatch is a satellite publication “of the Liberty, Kansas Evening Sun” (it says as much in teeny-tiny type below the title), which serves as a reminder that this Francophilic love fest springs from a more or less Midwestern mindset. Anderson knows that when you’ve never been to Paris, even the prostitutes and pickpockets seem sophisticated, and that everything from a beret to a baguette can seem funny — to say nothing of a tongue-twister like “grognons” or a slightly stilted accent. When characters do speak French, the subtitles are so queerly styled and arranged, the movie seems to be daring you to read them.

Apart from Ernst Lubitsch or Jacques Tati, it’s hard to imagine another director who has put this level of effort into crafting a comedy, where every costume, prop and casting choice has been made with such a reverential sense of absurdity. If that sounds airless or exhausting, think again: Sure, it takes work to unpack, but the ensemble ensures that Anderson’s humorous creations feel human. At the top of the masthead — and indulgent godfather to his staff — Murray recalls not just editors Harold Ross and William Shawn of The New Yorker but also the great H.L. Mencken, who encouraged writers like John Fante, subsisting on pennies and orange peels, to find their voice.

Frivolous as this all may sound, Anderson is right to celebrate a generation who broadened our idea of what storytelling could be, shaping more than just journalism: They found poetry in the streets and heroes on the margins; they challenged the establishment and represented a nouvelle vague every bit as influential as the one sweeping cinema around the same time. Today, chasing web traffic and popular trends, the field has arguably evolved in the wrong direction, which more than justifies such a toast to those ink-stained wretches who once followed their instincts.

Reviewed at Blakely Theater, Fox Studios, Los Angeles, June 29, 2021. (In Cannes Film Festival — competing.) MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 107 MIN.

  • Production: A Searchlight Pictures release, presented with Indian Paintbrush of an American Empirical Picture. Producers: Wes Anderson, Steven Rales, Jeremy Dawson. Executive producers: Roman Coppola, Henning Molfenter, Christoph Fisser, Charlie Woebcken. Co-producer: Octavia Peissel.
  • Crew: Director, writer: Wes Anderson. Story: Wes Anderson & Roman Coppola & Hugo Guinness & Jason Schwartzman. Camera: Robert Yeoman. Editor: Andrew Weisblum. Music: Alexandre Desplat.
  • With: Benicio Del Toro, Adrien Brody, Tilda Swinton, Léa Seydoux, Frances McDormand, Timothée Chalamet, Lyna Khoudri, Jeffrey Wright, Mathieu Amalric, Stephen Park, Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Christoph Waltz, Edward Norton, Jason Schwartzman, Liev Schreiber, Elisabeth Moss, Willem Dafoe, Lois Smith, Saoirse Ronan, Cécile de France, Guillaume Gallienne, Jason Schwartzman, Tony Revolori, Rupert Friend, Henry Winkler, Bob Balaban, Anjelica Huston. (English, French dialogue)

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Wes anderson’s ‘the french dispatch’: film review | cannes 2021.

Bill Murray plays the editor of a fictitious American magazine in a quaint French town, whose staff assembles to prepare their final issue in this valentine to literary journalism co-starring Timothée Chalamet and Frances McDormand.

By David Rooney

David Rooney

Chief Film Critic

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Wes Anderson pens an extravagant love letter to the adventurous editors of sophisticated literary magazines like The New Yorker , and to the writers, humorists and illustrators nurtured up through their ranks, in The French Dispatch . Bursting at the seams with hand-crafted visual delights and eccentric performances from a stacked ensemble entirely attuned to the writer-director’s signature wavelength, this is the film equivalent of a short story collection. That makes it episodic by nature and less nourishing in narrative terms than some of Anderson’s through-line features. But the Searchlight release is a beguiling curio, and one that no other filmmaker could have created.

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The decision to keep the movie on hold for a year from its original premiere slot after the cancellation of the 2020 Cannes Film Festival makes perfect sense given its playful celebration of all things French, not least of them French cinema. Anderson acknowledges a long list of influences, among the most conspicuous of them the beatnik hipsterism of nouvelle vague-period Godard, the youthful rebellion and romantic rapture of Truffaut, the social satire of Renoir and the slapstick of Tati. While the musicals of Jacques Demy are not mentioned, those are also evoked in the ravishing color palette.

The French Dispatch

Opens : Friday, Oct. 22 Venue : Cannes Film Festival (Competition) Cast : Benicio Del Toro, Adrien Brody, Tilda Swinton, Léa Seydoux, Frances McDormand, Timothée Chalamet, Lyna Khoudri, Jeffrey Wright, Mathieu Amalric, Stephen Park, Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Christoph Waltz, Edward Norton, Jason Schwartzman, Anjelica Huston Director-screenwriter : Wes Anderson; story by Anderson, Roman Coppola, Hugo Guinness, Jason Schwartzman

Audiences who in the past have found Anderson’s work precious and overly mannered are unlikely to alter that view, and it wouldn’t be surprising if some accuse the new film of veering almost into self-parody. But others who have savored their excursions into the director’s richly imagined, idiosyncratic worlds will marvel at the wonders of Adam Stockhausen’s production design, with its ingenious sets and miniatures and models, which transform the ancient Roman southwestern town of Angoulême into the whimsically named fictional locale of Ennui-sur-Blasé. The setting is no less elaborate a confection and each frame no less packed with artisanal detail than those of The Grand Budapest Hotel , arguably The French Dispatch ’s closest kin among Anderson’s previous films.

Continuing his affection for narrative boxes-within-boxes, Anderson structures the movie as an obituary, a travel column and three feature articles, all appearing in the final issue of the widely read magazine that provides the title. The obituary is for Arthur Howitzer Jr. (Bill Murray), the founding editor of The French Dispatch , who left his native Kansas 50 years earlier and spent decades assembling a talented team of expat journalists. Inspired by legendary New Yorker editors Harold Ross and William Shawn, Howitzer is an avuncular figure but also a hard taskmaster in Murray’s typically deadpan performance. The “No Crying” sign hanging above his office door indicates his tolerance for sentiment, while the Issue-in-Progress board laying out the various articles and illustrations vying for space could almost be one of Anderson’s own storyboards. Howitzer’s will stipulates that the magazine will cease publication upon his death.

The travel column is written by “cycling reporter” Herbsaint Sazerac (Owen Wilson), who tools around town on his bike, drolly commenting on a day in the life of Ennui. Given a visual assist with split-screen and inventive wipes, he guides us through the past, present and future of various corners, and surveys colorful locals like the streetwalkers and gigolos who gather on the cobblestones after dark. His study covers the rats that colonize the underground tunnels, the cats that congregate on the rooftops and the wriggly anguillettes that live in the canals.

The first of the features is The Concrete Masterpiece , written by art correspondent J.K.L. Berensen, who frames the piece as a lecture at a Kansas arts center. Tilda Swinton, who never met an outré disguise she didn’t like, looks every inch the part, outfitted by costumer Milena Canonero in deliciously garish upscale boho-chic, with a swooping matronly coiffure, a heap of power jewelry and a toothy dental plate. Berensen relishes every salacious detail, particularly the hints of her own intimate associations with the modern art world.

Her story centers on Moses Rosenthaler (Benicio Del Toro), a growling sociopath serving time for a double homicide in the Ennui Prison/Asylum. In the hobby room, he begins painting a series of nudes of his muse, taciturn prison guard Simone (Léa Seydoux), which spark the interest of art dealer Julien Cadazio (Adrien Brody) while he’s in jail for tax evasion. Upon his release, Cadazio and his uncles (Bob Balaban and Henry Winkler) begin promoting Rosenthaler’s work, stoking the market until prominent buyers are drawn from far and wide to the surprising unveiling of his magnum opus, including renowned Kansas collector Upshur “Maw” Clampette (Lois Smith). It seems an unlikely reference, but could Anderson be riffing on The Beverly Hillbillies with that name?

Next up is Revisions to a Manifesto , Anderson’s characteristically screwy take on France’s May 1968 protests, written by stoical essayist Lucinda Krementz ( Frances McDormand ). While alternately guarding and disregarding the virtues of journalistic neutrality, she takes up with the student revolutionaries busy overthrowing centuries of Republican authority — or just demanding access to the girls’ dormitory. Chief among them is impassioned chess master Zeffirelli ( Timothée Chalamet ), whose momentary distraction with the worldly Lucinda doesn’t quite obscure his antagonistic mutual attraction with fellow zealot Juliette (Lyna Khoudri).

The third and knottiest feature is The Private Dining Room of the Police Commissioner , by food writer Roebuck Wright, played by Jeffrey Wright as a dandified James Baldwin. The frame this time is a TV chat show interview conducted by Liev Schreiber. Roebuck explains how his profile of Lieutenant Nescaffier (Stephen Park), the gifted personal chef to the municipal police commissaire (Mathieu Amalric), spiraled into chaos. This happened when a gang of thugs and showgirls (Saoirse Ronan memorable among them) abducted the commissaire’s son and protégé (Winston Ait Hellal), demanding the release of the underworld accountant known as The Abacus (Willem Dafoe).

Inspired physical comedy figures throughout the film but reaches particularly giddy heights in this section, which features gorgeous animated escape sequences in a bandes dessinées style reminiscent of Belgian cartoonist Hergé, creator of The Adventures of Tintin , while also evoking classic New Yorker covers.

The “end note” is the writing of Howitzer’s obituary, which becomes a collaborative effort involving the entire staff. That includes the mathematically minded copy editor (Elisabeth Moss) and the cartoonist (Jason Schwartzman, who developed the story with Anderson, Roman Coppola and Hugo Guinness). Even the smallest role is garnished with the charming peculiarities that are vintage Anderson, though if I had to pick standouts, those would be Del Toro, Seydoux, McDormand, Chalamet and Wright, all of whom appear to be having a fine old time. And it’s a pleasure to hear the voice of Anjelica Huston (so divinely dry in The Royal Tenenbaums ) as narrator.

Regular collaborators who make vital contributions include DP Robert Yeoman, his visuals mixing black and white with color and alive with all the trademark symmetries, skewed angles and careful compositions; and composer Alexandre Desplat, whose doodling piano themes help shape the jaunty tone.

While The French Dispatch might seem like an anthology of vignettes without a strong overarching theme, every moment is graced by Anderson’s love for the written word and the oddball characters who dedicate their professional lives to it. There’s a wistful sense of time passing and a lovely ode to the pleasures of travel embedded in the material, along with an appreciation for the history of American foreign correspondents who bring their perceptive outsider gaze to other cultures. The mission of the magazine is summed up thus near the end of the film: “Maybe with good luck we’ll find what eluded us in the places we once called home.”

Full credits

Venue: Cannes Film Festival (Competition) Production companies: Searchlight Pictures, Indian Paintbrush, American Empirical Distribution: Searchlight Pictures Cast: Benicio Del Toro, Adrien Brody, Tilda Swinton, Léa Seydoux, Frances McDormand, Timothée Chalamet, Lyna Khoudri, Jeffrey Wright, Mathieu Amalric, Stephen Park, Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Christoph Waltz, Edward Norton, Jason Schwartzman, Anjelica Huston, Liev Schreiber, Elisabeth Moss, Willem Dafoe, Lois Smith, Saoirse Ronan, Cécile de France, Guillaume Gallienne, Tony Revolori, Rupert Friend, Henry Winkler, Bob Balaban, Hippolyte Girardot, Fisher Stevens, Griffin Dunne, Anjelica Bette Fellini, Winston Ait Hellal Director-screenwriter: Wes Anderson; story by Anderson, Roman Coppola, Hugo Guinness, Jason Schwartzman Producers: Wes Anderson, Steven Rales, Jeremy Dawson Executive producers: Roman Coppola, Henning Molfenter, Christoph Fisser, Charlie Woebcken Director of photography: Robert Yeoman Production designer: Adam Stockhausen Costume designer: Milena Canonero Music: Alexandre Desplat Editor: Andrew Weisblum Animation supervisor: Gwenn Germain Casting: Douglas Aibel, Jina Jay, Antoinette Boulat

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The French Dispatch

Bill Murray, Willem Dafoe, Frances McDormand, Liev Schreiber, Bob Balaban, Benicio Del Toro, Edward Norton, Henry Winkler, Adrien Brody, Jason Schwartzman, Owen Wilson, Mathieu Amalric, Steve Park, Lois Smith, Tilda Swinton, Christoph Waltz, Wallace Wolodarsky, Jeffrey Wright, Jarvis Cocker, Mohamed Belhadjine, Saoirse Ronan, Tony Revolori, Timothée Chalamet, Lyna Khoudri, and Krishna Bagadiya in The French Dispatch (2021)

A love letter to journalists set in an outpost of an American newspaper in a fictional twentieth century French city that brings to life a collection of stories published in "The French Disp... Read all A love letter to journalists set in an outpost of an American newspaper in a fictional twentieth century French city that brings to life a collection of stories published in "The French Dispatch Magazine". A love letter to journalists set in an outpost of an American newspaper in a fictional twentieth century French city that brings to life a collection of stories published in "The French Dispatch Magazine".

  • Wes Anderson
  • Roman Coppola
  • Hugo Guinness
  • Benicio Del Toro
  • Adrien Brody
  • Tilda Swinton
  • 665 User reviews
  • 268 Critic reviews
  • 75 Metascore
  • 25 wins & 122 nominations total

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  • Moses Rosenthaler

Adrien Brody

  • Julian Cadazio

Tilda Swinton

  • J.K.L. Berensen

Léa Seydoux

  • Lucinda Krementz

Timothée Chalamet

  • Roebuck Wright

Mathieu Amalric

  • The Commissaire

Steve Park

  • (as Stephen Park)

Bill Murray

  • Arthur Howitzer, Jr.

Owen Wilson

  • Herbsaint Sazerac

Bob Balaban

  • Upshur 'Maw' Clampette

Tony Revolori

  • Young Rosenthaler

Denis Ménochet

  • Prison Guard

Larry Pine

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  • Trivia The animated segments of The French Dispatch were directed by Gwenn Germain, who previously worked on Anderson's Isle of Dogs. As a nod to Angoulême's comic heritage, the sequences were done entirely by local illustrators. The team comprised a maximum of 15 people, using The Adventures of Tintin and Blake and Mortimer as their main inspirations. The process took about seven months to complete.
  • Goofs During the interview, Roebuck Wright's jacket chest pockets are unbuttoned and then buttoned after cut.

Roebuck Wright : Maybe with good luck we'll find what eluded us in the places we once called home.

  • Crazy credits Covers of different issues of The French Dispatch accompany the first few minutes of the ending credits.
  • Connections Featured in What 16 Movies Looked Like Behind the Scenes in 2021 (2021)
  • Soundtracks Bouree Sur Place & Forward (Waltz in C# Minor from Les Sylphides) Written by Frédéric Chopin Performed by Steven Mitchell Courtesy of Danceables Records

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24 Frames From Wes Anderson Films

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  • October 22, 2021 (United States)
  • United States
  • Official site
  • The French Dispatch of the Liberty, Kansas Evening Sun
  • Angoulême, Charente, France
  • American Empirical Pictures
  • Indian Paintbrush
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  • $25,000,000 (estimated)
  • $16,124,375
  • Oct 24, 2021
  • $46,333,545

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  • Runtime 1 hour 47 minutes
  • Black and White
  • Dolby Digital

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The French Dispatch review: Wes Anderson at his most Wes Anderson-y

movie review for the french dispatch

The French Dispatch is set, as some geography sleuths may have already deduced, in France, specifically a scenic little (fictional) village called Ennui-sur-Blasé. But where it takes place is not so much a spot on a map as a state of mind: the whimsical, arcane dreamworld of the Wes Anderson Cinematic Universe — a fantastical land of living dioramas and deadpan picaresques, stacked cameos and labyrinthine set design. A logical person might ask what the movie (in theaters Oct. 22) is actually about ; only a fool or a forensic film detective could attempt to answer that.

The players, at least, will be immediately familiar to anyone who has visited these Wes coasts before: Bill Murray, Adrien Brody, Tilda Swinton, Frances McDormand, Owen Wilson, Edward Norton, Willem Dafoe. Also Timothée Chalamet, Benicio del Toro, Saoirse Ronan, Léa Seydoux, Liev Schrieber, Jeffrey Wright, and Elisabeth Moss. (Anjelica Huston, naturally, narrates). The year is nominally 1975, and Murray is the gruff owner-editor of the titular magazine, a periodical spun from "a largely unread Sunday supplement" of his native Liberty, Kansas.

The Dispatch 's subjects, divided into chapters like a live-action New Yorker newsletter, are as willfully far-flung as they are strange: In the first, a lecture on a madman painter (del Toro) and his prison-guard muse (a steely, extremely nude Seydoux) whose work is frantically pursued by an eager investor (Brody) and his two elderly uncles (Henry Winkler and Bob Balaban, whom it might be best to call silent partners). Swinton, her wig and gown glowing Heatmiser orange, is our tipsy, confiding tour guide. In the next, it's a much sterner McDormand — a veteran reporter caught up with a student rebellion leader played by Chalamet with electrified young-Einstein hair and a penchant for pretty young radicals and grand manifestos.

Then there's Jeffrey Wright's soulful, sad-eyed Roebuck, whose purported beat is food and beverages, but whose coverage extends to the kidnapping case of a little boy caught up in a rogue crew that includes Ronan as a strung-out showgirl and somehow, a permed Dafoe trapped in a chicken coop. Roebuck is recounting his tale on some kind of '70s talk show set to a suave Schreiber, who appears to be following the story's spiraling tangents only marginally better than his audience. Can you blame him? The dialogue is so dense and discursive that it often seems to be running at time-and-a-half speed, and there is, as it were, no narrative arc to be found, other than the vague framing device of a central death.

There's hardly a director working today whose output is as stylistically distinct and instantly recognizable as Anderson's; at this point, he's become both an adjective and a genre unto himself. Dispatch often feels like the filmmaker in concentrate form, both his best and worst instincts on extravagant display. The movie is undeniably clever and intoxicating to look at, and his actors seem to thrill at the chance to chase the chemtrails of his wildly esoteric storylines. But he also seems to have lost (or simply lost interest in) the human emotions and sensical plots that tethered earlier gems like Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaum s — and even his most recent film, 2018's bittersweet stop-motion reverie Isle of Dogs — to something more like real recognizable life. Dispatch is a trip, quite literally: a journey of remarkable, impenetrable design, with no destination in sight. Grade: B

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  • Watch a naked Timothée Chalamet try to impress Frances McDormand in The French Dispatch sneak peek

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The French Dispatch Reviews

movie review for the french dispatch

While perhaps The French Dispatch is not Anderson’s most free-flowing film, it is an amalgamation of everything Anderson has put to film to date, drawing on his love of cartoons, newspapers and French culture (in particular cinema).

Full Review | Aug 8, 2023

movie review for the french dispatch

Like the very best of Wes Anderson, The French Dispatch is large and contains multitudes.

Full Review | Jul 28, 2023

movie review for the french dispatch

DELIGHTFUL in every sense of the way. I typically don’t like Anthology stories all too much but this one surprised me. Anderson developed three interesting & well polished stories that brought about a unique feeling that always comes from his movies

Full Review | Jul 26, 2023

movie review for the french dispatch

The French Dispatch is arguably Wes Anderson’s most ambitious film, definitely his most frenetic, and possibly the most alienating to all but the most devoted Wes Anderson fans.

Full Review | Jul 25, 2023

movie review for the french dispatch

Unfortunately, the cliche criticism "style over substance" fits this picture too well.

Full Review | Original Score: C+ | Jul 25, 2023

movie review for the french dispatch

At times overwhelming in scope, but never unwelcome, French Dispatch is what the audience expects from Anderson, but it doesn’t go far beyond that. It's a perfectly curated dollhouse in a candy-coated wonderland. There are worse ways to spend your time

movie review for the french dispatch

It’s a tender, vastly underrated title in Anderson’s filmography, one that should grow even more in esteem as the years go on.

Full Review | Jun 28, 2023

movie review for the french dispatch

After watching his tenth feature film, The French Dispatch, I am 100% confident Wes Anderson was raised in a household with parents that performed a traveling festival of living pictures on weekends.

Full Review | Original Score: 3/5 | Oct 21, 2022

movie review for the french dispatch

The French Dispatch is the film equivalent of a Wes Anderson amusement park, captivating audiences with color, chaos, and countless curious characters.

Full Review | Original Score: 4/5 | Sep 1, 2022

movie review for the french dispatch

If you’re one of those viewers who can only handle Wes Anderson in small doses, then his new film “The French Dispatch” probably isn’t for you.

Full Review | Original Score: 3/5 | Aug 16, 2022

movie review for the french dispatch

The French Dispatch is 2/3 of a great movie with a long slog in its middle

Full Review | Jul 21, 2022

movie review for the french dispatch

Feels like slipping not only into Anderson's head but his heart, and more so than any other feature he's made.

Full Review | Jul 8, 2022

movie review for the french dispatch

A great homage to the written word... the words transcend to the screen in the Wes Anderson Universe. Now, was [the film] spectacular? I'm sorry to say it was not. [Full review in Spanish]

Full Review | Jun 29, 2022

movie review for the french dispatch

Far from the aesthetic pretensions that are taken to the paroxysm, its love letter to journalism seems to me as flat and wrinkled as a piece of newsprint thrown into the garbage can. [Full review in Spanish]

Full Review | Original Score: 4/10 | Jun 12, 2022

A visual masterpiece bursting at the seams with talent both on and off the screen, "The French Dispatch" is a film by a director working at the absolute height of his powers.

Full Review | Original Score: 8/10 | May 31, 2022

movie review for the french dispatch

THE FRENCH DISPATCH is Wes Anderson at his best, most charming and masterful version. A wonderfully funny, romantic and melancholic feast for the senses and a great cast on top.

Full Review | Original Score: 8/10 | Apr 25, 2022

movie review for the french dispatch

An artistic & set design showcase that serves as a good diversion to amuse oneself when the story isnt particularly engaging. Overall it's an amusing movie with fun, quirky bits, but with little emotional resonance in the disjointed stories.

Full Review | Original Score: 3/5 | Feb 28, 2022

movie review for the french dispatch

Even with its faults, The French Dispatch is the most Wes Anderson film of all time. Suppose youre already a fan of his work like I am. In that case, this film will satisfy your wishes.

Full Review | Original Score: 3/4 | Feb 18, 2022

movie review for the french dispatch

Unlikely to turn Anderson haters into advocates, but it is a humble and affectionate ode to writers that opened up his world.

Full Review | Original Score: 9/10 | Feb 17, 2022

movie review for the french dispatch

Beautifully crafted but more concerned with style than substance

Full Review | Original Score: 2.5/4 | Feb 12, 2022

The French Dispatch Review

The French Dispatch

The French Dispatch

The French Dispatch is Wesley Wales Anderson (even his name sounds like one of his characters) with knobs on. A billet doux to literary magazines, a vanishing age of journalism, travel, France in general and French cinema in particular, it’s structured in a magazine format — an obituary, a travel section and three features — which gives it the feel of a portmanteau picture. This means it is slightly less fulfilling than some of Anderson ’s narrative features, but this is still a director working near the peak of his powers, and an intricately constructed movie full of dense detail, comedic invention — both highbrow and low — fantastic flights of imagination, exquisitely controlled filmmaking and an infectious sense of fun.

The French Dispatch

The magazine in question is ‘The French Dispatch’, a satellite publication “of ‘The Liberty, Kansas Evening Sun’” (cue miniscule Anderson-style type below the title). The opening obituary is for Arthur Howitzer Jr ( Bill Murray ), an old-school editor with a “No Crying” sign above the door and useful journalistic advice (“Just try 
to make it sound like you wrote it that way on purpose”). We segue into a brief travel column as Herbsaint Sazerac ( Owen Wilson ) cycles round the fictional town of Ennui-sur-Blasé offering insights into street corners and cats, split screens giving a poignant then-and-now perspective.

A rare Wes Anderson film that flirts with the real world, engaging with politics, sex and violence.

Then we are into the first feature proper. Relayed by Tilda Swinton ’s art correspondent J.K.L. Berensen, ‘The Concrete Masterpiece’ tells the engaging tale of convicted murderer Moses Rosenthaler ( Benicio Del Toro ), who uses prison guard Simone ( Léa Seydoux ) as a nude model and muse, catching the eye of dealer Julien Cadazio ( Adrien Brody ). The middle (least satisfying) episode, ‘Revisions To A Manifesto’, mixes Godardian radicalism and Truffaut-style romance as essay writer Lucinda Krementz ( Frances McDormand ) begins an affair with student Zeffirelli ( Timothée Chalamet ) during the tumult of May 1968. And saving the best ’til last, ‘The Private Dining Room Of The Police Commissioner’ sees Jeffrey Wright ’s food writer Roebuck Wright profiling genius chef Nescaffier (Stephen Park), who becomes embroiled in 
a kidnap plot involving a police commissioner’s ( Mathieu Almaric ) son, gangsters and an underworld accountant known as The Abacus ( Willem Dafoe ). It’s complicated but goofy fun.

Newcomers to the Anderson gang — Del Toro, Chalamet, Wright, Elisabeth Moss — tune into the wavelength as well as the regulars (hello, Jason Schwartzman ). All your favourite Anderson tropes are here: symmetrical compositions, subtitles, aspect-ratio shenanigans, huge cross-sections (a plane) and a pastel palette to rival The Umbrellas Of Cherbourg . But there are some tweaks to the formula, too. The French Dispatch is the first Anderson flick to feature an animated car-chase that could have leapt straight off the pages of Tintin . It’s also a rare WA film that flirts with the real world, engaging with politics, sex and violence, often absent from his twee, hermetically sealed universes. The end-note is weirdly wistful, the whole thing a joy to flick through. Subscribe now.

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‘The French Dispatch’ Review: Wes Anderson Doubles Down on His Style in Endearing Journalism Salute

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Editor’s note: This review was originally published at the 2021 Cannes   Film Festival. Searchlight Pictures releases the film in theaters on Friday, October 22.

It’s hard to imagine another living filmmaker with a style as instantly recognizable as Wes Anderson , a feat that works against him no matter how expansive his approach. “ The French Dispatch ” doubles down on it, with a freewheeling triptych of stories that make the case for his appeal by amplifying it.

So much has been made about the precise frames, the vibrant colors, and the deadpan delivery of Anderson’s work, but less about the substance beneath it. Anderson’s movies may be pretty, whimsical flights of fancy, but they also express genuine curiosity about the strange nature of human relations. The people at the center of “The French Dispatch” do that, too: This charming sketchbook of stories about American expatriates in France delivers a welcome salute to storytelling as a way to make sense of the world. A freewheeling three-part salute to old-school journalism in general and The New Yorker in particular, the movie works in fits and starts, swapping narrative cohesion for charming small doses of wit and wonder about odd people and places worth your time.

The result is an endearing and liberated explosion of Andersonian aesthetics that doesn’t always cohere into a satisfying package, but never slows down long enough to lose its engrossing appeal, and always retains its purpose. Closer to a French New Wave experiment than the more controlled ensemble stories in his repertoire, “The French Dispatch” is akin to Anderson inviting audiences into his laboratory as he mines for gold from real material, and fuses it with his homegrown artistry.

While its central publication is based in the fictional French city of Ennsui-sur-Blasé and serves an audience across the globe in Kansas, there’s no doubting the inspiration behind the scenes. “The French Dispatch” closes with a dedication to everyone from William Shawn to James Baldwin and Lillian Ross, all treasured writers from The New Yorker history books whose work inspired the eccentric tales within.

Molding elements of their work into his standard ironic cadences, Anderson explores topics as far-reaching as an imprisoned painter subjected to the absurdity of the art world, student revolutionaries in the sixties, and a convoluted kidnapping plot that involves both food porn and animation. The experience is akin to flipping through the eccentric pages of the publication in question, overwhelmed by the details streaming in.

As an inviting voiceover (Anjelica Huston) explains, “The French Dispatch of the Liberty, Kansas Evening Sun” took its cues for 50 years from the guidance of one Arthur Howitzer Jr. (a muted Bill Murray, playing a lightly fictionalized version of New Yorker founder Harold Ross). Over the course of the intricate triptych that follows, Anderson assembles more embellished figures from the magazine’s pages, all of whom excel at the filmmaker’s brand of understated delivery, as they make even the most practical observations sound like punchlines. In lesser hands, it might get grating, and fast, but Anderson keeps the material fresh with a zippy screenplay and his playful Russian Doll approach to narrative, not to mention the ever-striking mise-en-scene and imagery that careens from bold palettes to black-and-white and back again. Cinematographer Robert Yeoman maintains the postcard-like precision of “The Grand Budapest Hotel” with such exactitude that anyone unfamiliar with the fictional setting might mistake it for a real place.

movie review for the french dispatch

Mostly, though, “The French Dispatch” is a fun watch because it keeps reinventing itself. Each chapter gives another journalist the chance to take charge. There’s the straight-faced Lucinda Krementz (Frances McDormand), who writes about the exploits of quirky student activist Zeffirelli (a meme-worthy Timothée Chalamet), and ultimately sleeps with him before coaxing him to follow his true desires. The second, more garrulous entry follows arts reporter J.K.L. Berensen (Tilda Swinton), who recounts the peculiar romance between incarcerated painter Moses Rosenthaler (Benicio Del Toro) and prison guard Simone (Léa Seydoux), as well as the advances of a scheming art dealer (Adrien Brody). Finally, there’s Roebuck Wright (Jeffrey Wright) — an apparent blend of Baldwin and Francophilic foodie A.J. Liebling — who recites the bizarre story of a kidnapping taking place in the city to a talk show host (Liev Schreiber) while doubling back on a series of oddball tangents, with interjections from Murray’s editor for clarity.

That one’s a knockout, but “The French Dispatch” takes a lot of detours to get there. Somewhere along the way, Owen Wilson rides a bike around town for a slapstick interlude, animated sequences appear, and the cameos pile up all over the place, from Edward Norton as a police chief to Saoirse Ronan as a criminal and Christoph Waltz, apparently just hanging around. At times, the density of famous faces and circumstances gives the impression of a dizzying stunt: Anderson’s ability to corral a bunch of actors to do his bidding in a vibrant milieu has never been such an overt component of his filmmaking, and at times it threatens to undo the overall appeal.

Mostly, though, the scattershot assemblage of vignettes remain an absorbing and always quite fun ride, as Anderson makes his way from 1925 to 1975 with each story carving out a distinctive path. Among them, the Del Toro/Seydoux pairing stands out as Anderson’s most affecting love story since his 2007 short “Hotel Chevalier,” as it finds the characters enmeshed in the hilarious and touching story of a criminal man finding his purpose behind bars — and the deranged collector whose passive-aggressive advances build to a violent confrontation. Brody’s performance was inspired by Lord Duveen, the subject of a 1951 New Yorker profile by S.N. Behrman, and the character’s insistence that the prisoner must commodify his talent feels like Anderson’s way of addressing the pressures he faces as well: “All artists sell their work,” Brody insists. “That’s what makes them artists.”

But it’s the McDormand/Chalamet segment that allows Anderson to bring much grander ambitions to bear, as he maps out the story of student revolutionaries in smoke-filled bars with such overt early Godard overtones it’s a wonder he doesn’t include a reference to the children of Marx and Coca-Cola. However, he does give us Chalamet’s Zeferelli in a bizarre love triangle with an older woman and the radical French motorcyclist (Lyna Khoudri) whose ideology doesn’t quite line up with his own. The sight of the pair mounted on her bike, speeding upward through a black abyss, is one of the most lyrical, even haunting, images in Anderson’s repertoire; it evokes the constant sense of mystery and journeying to exotic destinations, both real and imagined, that often exist at the center of his work.

Still, Wright’s performance may be the strongest selling point of “The French Dispatch,” and the one that brings it all home. His stern gaze and baritone delivery capture the essence of the soul-searching that has deepened and matured in Anderson’s films over the years. Decades after “Bottle Rocket” and “Rushmore,” the filmmaker’s scope has widened many times over. Continuing a trajectory he started with “The Grand Budapest Hotel” and “Isle of Dogs,” he’s less invested in the particulars of family bonds or idiosyncratic journeymen than the way those sort of personalities feed into the larger equation of an enigmatic existence. When Bill Murray’s Arthur interrupts Roebuck’s story to clarify its intent, the moment feels like Anderson’s way of saluting the constant give-and-take necessary to make an impactful statement rather than just coloring in the lines of a pretty picture.

That’s the central tension that Anderson’s movies have always worked through. “The French Dispatch” bears some of the DNA last glimpsed in “The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou,” another portrait of a storyteller partly drawn from real life. There, however, the protagonist was literally lost at sea; here, the storytellers find stability to their mission in communal bonds. We learn early on that the publication’s editor died in 1975, and that the French Dispatch effectively died with him; the sweet climax finds the entire staff coming together for one last assignment. On a certain level, the fate of the paper suggests that this kind of handmade approach to distinctive human experiences died long ago, and Anderson’s salute to an earlier era may also be his version of an elegy. Certainly, the precise, discursive storytelling of “The French Dispatch” is in constant peril, but the very existence of this delightful movie is proof that it hasn’t gone away yet.

“The French Dispatch” premiered in Competition at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival. Searchlight Pictures will release the film in theaters on Friday, October 22.

As new movies open in theaters during the COVID-19 pandemic, IndieWire will continue to review them whenever possible. We encourage readers to follow the  safety precautions  provided by CDC and health authorities. Additionally, our coverage will provide alternative viewing options whenever they are available.

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Elisabeth Moss, Owen Wilson, Tilda Swinton, Fisher Stevens and Griffin Dunne in The French Dispatch.

The French Dispatch review – exasperating Wes Anderson portmanteau picture

A stellar cast enliven the director’s uneven three-story anthology featuring a student protest, an insane artist and a heist thriller

T he films of Wes Anderson , with their intricately layered details and fanatically meticulous design, almost invariably reward a second viewing. That is certainly the case with his latest, The French Dispatch , a showily starry portmanteau picture that takes as a jumping-off point the final issue of a supplement magazine for the fictional Liberty, Kansas Evening Sun newspaper. But given that on a first viewing I found it to be among the most punchable films I have ever seen, the initial bar was lower than with some of Anderson’s other pictures.

The problem with the anthology structure – the film is made of three discrete stories, each based on a feature article by one of the magazine’s star writers, plus a brief scene-setting travelogue that digs into the insalubrious corners of the town of Ennui-sur-Blasé – is that it’s almost inevitably uneven. And however engaging the film’s final story is – the most satisfying by no small margin; a food review turned heist thriller narrated by and starring Jeffrey Wright at his most mellifluous and charming – patience will be sorely tried by the segment that comes before it.

This is a tale of student protest, starring Frances McDormand as ace reporter Lucinda Krementz and Timothée Chalamet as Zeffirelli, the wild-haired, chess-playing, Gauloise-sucking student leader. It says something about Anderson’s hermetically sealed privilege that he can take something as essential as dissent and render it in a tonal palette that is all cutesy pastels and adorable kitsch, while neatly sidestepping any hint of politics. Elsewhere, though, there is more to admire.

The first section, a portrait of a criminally insane artist (Benicio del Toro), is a sly pleasure, not least because it’s narrated by Tilda Swinton as arts correspondent JKL Berensen, a fabulously glamorous creature with buck teeth, a tangerine evening dress and the tantalising hint of a scandalous past. The travelogue – a bike-powered voyage to the dark side starring Owen Wilson, which takes in pickpockets, floating corpses and bands of renegade choirboys – has a bracing savagery that’s at odds with the film’s self-consciously charming aesthetic. And Anderson’s backdrop, a kind of steroidally enhanced Frenchness reminiscent of films such as Belleville Rendez-Vous and Amélie , is rather lovely, if ultimately as far removed from reality as is the film’s romanticised view of journalism.

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'The French Dispatch' Review: The Most Wes Anderson Movie to Ever Wes Anderson | Cannes 2021

An ode to old-school magazine journalism turns into a party of whimsy.

There is no denying that Wes Anderson is one of the most easily recognizable directors working today, to the point where his spoofs can be recognized even by casual moviegoers. For his The French Dispatch , Anderson looks to the printing press with nostalgia goggles on, specifically for magazines like The New Yorker, to create his most iconic and Wes Anderson-like movie to date.

The story is presented with an anthology format, with the runtime divided into "an obituary, a travel guide and three feature articles," with no common thread joining the stories other than the fact that they are articles narrated by different writers. The result feels like watching a visual representation of a magazine, with each article having a distinct style and personality that corresponds to that of its writer/narrator, each of them being close enough to the cast that they become characters in them — to the point of calling the idea of journalistic neutrality absolute nonsense.

RELATED: Wes Anderson Had His ‘French Dispatch’ Cast Watch These 5 Movies Before Filming

Because of the anthology-like format and the runtime restrictions on each segment , The French Dispatch feels a bit emotionally distant compared to some of Anderson's other movies. Out of the five segments, the travel guide, in which Owen Wilson explains the history of the fictional town where the magazine's offices are, is completely forgettable, yet Anderson isn't as interested in emotions depth or thematic resonance as he is interested in letting big personalities make big and lasting impressions on the audience. Take for instance Benicio del Toro as a genius artist who is also imprisoned for a double homicide, or Timothée Chalamet as a walking, talking meme about teenagers acting like revolutionaries without a clue of how many appendixes to add to a manifesto. We get the briefest of insights into what makes them tick and what their motivations are, but their segments are much more concerned with what they do in the short time we meet them than in what came before, leaving you with a desire to know more.

Of course, a big part of why this works is that Anderson gathered a top-notch group of actors for his latest film, both in the insane number of A-list cameos — everyone from Saoirse Ronan to Christoph Waltz is in the film, even if they only have two lines of dialogue. Chalamet does a great job playing a more self-aware character than we're used to seeing from him, and his relationship to Frances McDormand 's Lucinda Krementz, who starts writing about Chalamet's revolution and ends up sleeping with him is delightful to see play out. That being said, the standout performance comes from Jeffrey Wright as a James Baldwin-like writer who simply cannot spend more than 5 minutes telling a story without going into weird and long tangents.

Even if The French Dispatch doesn't have the depth of other Anderson movies, it's because the director wants to re-establish himself as one of the most aesthetically distinct filmmakers today by throwing every single Wes Anderson-ism at the screen to the point where it's almost a sensory overload. The film includes everything from your changing aspect ratios, to the symmetrical framing, to going from full-color to black-and-white on a whim, to extensive use of miniatures, to a phenomenal and totally out of left field animated sequence straight out of an Adventures of Tintin comic strip. All this may get a bit overwhelming, as Anderson seems to cram about 20 different movies into a two-hour runtime, and multiple viewings are definitely encouraged to even try and grasp half of what Anderson is trying to do. Except it all works because of the sense of love and care Anderson and his team pour into every frame, including Alexandre Desplat , who provides one of his best scores in years.

If you're not a fan of Anderson's visual style, this movie will not convince you otherwise. In the end, The French Dispatch is a near-perfect encapsulation of Anderson's filmography and perhaps the best film to show to newcomers. If it wasn't for the fact that the beginning of the movie makes it very clear the fake magazine ended by the time the story began, I'd be running to the kiosk to buy the next issue.

KEEP READING: Wes Anderson's 'The French Dispatch' Gets a New Poster and Theatrical Release Date

Review: The grand letdown of Wes Anderson’s boorish ‘The French Dispatch’

Two men sit facing each other, while another stands at a window reading a book in the film "The French Dispatch."

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Wes Anderson is undeniably the king of kitschy quirk, an auteur of the highest order in the realm of highly mannered and fastidious filmmaking. At this point, there’s no disabusing Anderson of his signature style, his films busy little dioramas stuffed to the brim with references and text and beloved character actors, so much so that the eye can barely register it all. However, his latest cinematic curio, “The French Dispatch,” demonstrates that sometimes too much of a good thing can be a pretentious bore.

“The French Dispatch” could easily be a parody of a Wes Anderson film because it is too Andersonian for its own good. It features many of his regular repertory players: Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Jason Schwartzman, Edward Norton, Tilda Swinton, Saoirse Ronan, Tony Revolori, Adrien Brody, Frances McDormand, Léa Seydoux and Wally Wolodarsky, plus some new pals: Timothée Chalamet , Benicio del Toro, Elisabeth Moss and Jeffrey Wright. The pans are lateral, the tilts are vertical, the compositions themselves crammed and cramped with visual information, requiring so much labor in order to discern every detail that it’s possible the eyes and brain might just reject the task at hand.

It doesn’t help that the film, structured in a series of episodic vignettes each representing a magazine article, doesn’t offer an emotional throughline in the form of a protagonist. On a macro level, “The French Dispatch” is a tribute to the New Yorker magazine, the title referring to a fictional publication, an insert of the Liberty, Kansas, Evening Sun, the pet project of the publisher’s son, Arthur Howitzer Jr. (Bill Murray). Headquartered in the fictional French village Ennui-sur-Blasé (yes, that is indeed the name), a colorful cast of journalists, critics and correspondents make up the masthead of the French Dispatch.

Each chapter follows a different piece of writing: Wilson as the bicycling journalist offers the local color of Ennui; Swinton is an art critic delivering a long lecture about a prisoner-turned-artist (Del Toro) who becomes the toast of modern Abstract Expressionism thanks to his guard lover and model (Seydoux); and incarcerated agent (Brody). McDormand is a political reporter who pens a piece about a protest movement led by a student (Chalamet) that allows Anderson the chance to play in a Parisian pop fantasy land that speaks to the Nouvelle Vague and the early films of Jean-Luc Godard. The final chapter features the food critic (Wright) on a talk show recounting the kidnapping plot in which he found himself, with a stylistic flair akin to a World War II-era French espionage thriller, inspired by Jean Renoir, plus an animated car chase.

It’s hard to be critical of a film and filmmaker that seem to have pure intentions, seeking to craft a charming love letter to the golden era of (generously funded) print media. But the tics and habits that make up Anderson’s often imitated, never duplicated aesthetic have reached the point of actively working against him in “The French Dispatch.” If he is trying to say something (and it’s unclear what that might be), all of the fuss and muss obfuscates any message, and even worse, any emotional connection to the film. This latest dispatch is indeed a profound disappointment.

Katie Walsh is a Tribune News Service film critic.

‘The French Dispatch’

Rated: R, for graphic nudity, some sexual references and language Running time: 1 hour, 48 minutes Playing: In limited release

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Review: ‘The French Dispatch’ is a film of 4 quirky stories

This image released by Searchlight Pictures shows a scene from "The French Dispatch." (Searchlight Pictures via AP)

This image released by Searchlight Pictures shows a scene from “The French Dispatch.” (Searchlight Pictures via AP)

This image released by Searchlight Pictures shows Timothée Chalamet, left, and Lyna Khoudri in a scene from “The French Dispatch.” (Searchlight Pictures via AP)

This image released by Searchlight Pictures shows Tilda Swinton in a scene from “The French Dispatch.” (Searchlight Pictures via AP)

This image released by Searchlight Pictures shows Bill Murray, left, and Pablo Pauly in a scene from “The French Dispatch.” (Searchlight Pictures via AP)

This image released by Searchlight Pictures shows, from left, Elisabeth Moss, Owen Wilson, Tilda Swinton, Fisher Stevens and Griffin Dunne in a scene from “The French Dispatch.” (Searchlight Pictures via AP)

This image released by Searchlight Pictures shows, from left, Bill Murray, Wally Wolodarsky and Jeffrey Wright in a scene from “The French Dispatch.” (Searchlight Pictures via AP)

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There’s a line that Bill Murray’s Harold Ross-like character Arthur Howitzer Jr, the editor of The French Dispatch of the Liberty, Kansas Evening Sun, says a few times in Wes Anderson’s new movie that I can’t stop thinking about. “Just try to make it sound like you wrote it that way on purpose,” he gently advises his staff.

It’s clever, sure, and just familiar enough to make you wonder if it is some well-known writing advice. But what’s especially striking is that it’s somehow both confident and self-deprecating —- a beautiful quip that’s full of insight and contradictions, not unlike Anderson films themselves. And it’s easy to wonder whether it’s a kind of window into Anderson’s mind, something he tells himself or was once told to make sense of his idiosyncratic aesthetic, which lately seems to have become a bit of a liability. For better or worse, Wes Anderson films always look, sound and feel like Wes Anderson films.

“The French Dispatch” is no exception, but because we’ve now been living with his films for 25 years and the most surface interpretation of his style has been misappropriated by dilettantes on Instagram, it’s become easy to write off. And perhaps there is something to the fact that fairly or not, some of the luster has dulled due to familiarity, but “ The French Dispatch ” remains a highly enjoyable, sophisticated and experimental ode to the romantic, and fictionalized, idea of the midcentury heyday of magazines like “The New Yorker” and “The Paris Review.”

This particular magazine’s reach is significantly more limited than that of its inspirations. The French Dispatch is a weekly insert of the Liberty Kansas Evening Sun. The real Liberty, Kansas, is a town with a population that has barely exceeded 250 in the past century and, more recently, has hovered closer to 100. This makes it all the more amusing that Murray’s character would bankroll this magazine out of France (in a fictional town called Ennui-sur-Blasé) with a staff of famous longform writers. But it’s a pursuit that will end with his death, and the final issue provides the structure for this anthology film.

There is a “Talk of the Town”-like vignette with Owen Wilson as Herbsaint Sazerac describing a day in the life of a small French town, a story about an incarcerated murderer (Benicio del Toro) whose modern paintings become a sensation, one about a reluctant student revolutionary, Zeffirelli (Timothée Chalamet), and another about a food journalist (Jeffrey Wright) sent to profile a celebrated chef (Stephen Park) who is caught up in a wild kidnapping and rescue scheme. It is quirky, delightfully absurd at times and dark — all Anderson’s films are, even if that’s always forgotten in the bad cover versions.

Anderson has written the screenplay alongside frequent collaborators Roman Coppola, Hugo Guinness and Jason Schwartzman (who also plays a minor role). And it is a uniquely moving experience jumping from story to story (in fitting black and white with the occasional pop of color, presumably to mimic print and photo) with only the loosely connective thread that they all happen to be in the same publication. That you get as invested as you are is a testament to the storytelling and the army of seasoned actors who seem more than happy to pop in for a few minutes of screen time, including but not limited to Adrien Brody, Tilda Swinton, Léa Seydoux, Frances McDormand, Mathieu Amalric, Elisabeth Moss, Henry Winkler and Saoirse Ronan.

If anything, “The French Dispatch” perhaps suffers because of its abundance which on first viewing can seem like overwhelming excess, but I think will hold up enormously well. These are the details that will make it enjoyable and rewarding to revisit. Or maybe it was just a kitchen-sink kind of endeavor, but it works.

In any case, Anderson made it feel like he did it that way on purpose.

“The French Dispatch,” a Searchlight Pictures release in limited release Friday, expanding on Oct. 29, is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America for “language, graphic nudity, some sexual references.” Running time: 103 minutes. Three stars out of four.

MPAA Definition of R: Restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

Follow AP Film Writer Lindsey Bahr on Twitter:

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The french dispatch, common sense media reviewers.

movie review for the french dispatch

Nostalgic tribute to expat writers has nudity, language.

The French Dispatch Poster Image

A Lot or a Little?

What you will—and won't—find in this movie.

Reminds viewers of importance of learning about th

Arthur Howitzer Jr. is a loyal, dedicated editor w

Most characters are White with exception of Mexica

An incarcerated person is a double murderer who ki

A couple of sex scenes: One shows two people lying

Strong language includes "f--k," "c--ksucker," "mo

Adults smoke cigarettes throughout. Adults also dr

Parents need to know that The French Dispatch is a comedy about the staff of a fictional 20th century American newspaper's magazine supplement, which is headquartered in the (also fictional) French town of Ennui-sur-Blasé. The movie features writer-director Wes Anderson's iconic art direction, dark humor, and…

Positive Messages

Reminds viewers of importance of learning about the world through written word, of the way writers and journalists tell interesting stories for their readers. It's a tribute to camaraderie of a newsroom/workplace where people respect and admire one another.

Positive Role Models

Arthur Howitzer Jr. is a loyal, dedicated editor who gives each of his writers individual attention and cares about the stories he's publishing. Each writer believes that they're writing about something important or interesting, whether it's local color, food, human-interest profiles, or youth protests.

Diverse Representations

Most characters are White with exception of Mexican Jewish prison artist Moses Rosenthaler; Black, gay writer Roebuck Wright, and Asian chef Nescaffier. Women writers are just as important to the publication as male writers.

Did we miss something on diversity? Suggest an update.

Violence & Scariness

An incarcerated person is a double murderer who kills two bartenders. The violent act is heard; visuals are limited to blood splatter. Later it's revealed that the perpetrator decapitated and dismembered the men. Huge shoot-out between police and a kidnapping gang. A group of people is poisoned. A main character dies; his dead body is visible. Police forces throw a presumed criminal out of a plane; others are tortured, threatened. People kidnap a child and keep him tied in a closet. A bicyclist keeps falling down stairs and crashing into places. Rioters are met with tear gas and special forces in riot gear. A prison brawl breaks out; people are killed (violence is stylized).

Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Violence & Scariness in your kid's entertainment guide.

Sex, Romance & Nudity

A couple of sex scenes: One shows two people lying next to each other post-intercourse (bare shoulders, heavy breathing). Another couple is shown before having sex (she's topless, he's shirtless; they kiss). Two other people are shown in bed together, having had sex (off camera). Long scene featuring nonsexual full-frontal nudity of a woman posing as an artist's model. A young man in the tub is shown naked from the side (he covers his genitals).

Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Sex, Romance & Nudity in your kid's entertainment guide.

Strong language includes "f--k," "c--ksucker," "motherf----r," and insulting terms like "demented," "deranged," "crazy," "insane," "savages," and more. One use of "good God."

Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Language in your kid's entertainment guide.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Adults smoke cigarettes throughout. Adults also drink everything from wine and cocktails to hard liquor and even a mouthwash that includes alcohol.

Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Drinking, Drugs & Smoking in your kid's entertainment guide.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that The French Dispatch is a comedy about the staff of a fictional 20th century American newspaper's magazine supplement, which is headquartered in the (also fictional) French town of Ennui-sur-Blasé. The movie features writer-director Wes Anderson 's iconic art direction, dark humor, and melancholic themes. Unlike some of Anderson's younger-skewing movies, this film includes full-frontal nudity (nonsexual), a couple of stylized love scenes (partial nudity, but nothing more than kissing is shown), strong language ("f--k," "c--ksucker," "motherf----r," etc.), lots of smoking and drinking, and some scenes of violence (shoot-outs, a prison brawl, and more). A tribute to the camaraderie of the newsroom, it stars a huge ensemble of award-winning actors, some of whom are Anderson regulars ( Owen Wilson , Bill Murray , Adrien Brody , Anjelica Huston , Jason Schwartzman , Tilda Swinton , Saoirse Ronan , Willem Dafoe , etc.) and some who are working with him for the first time ( Timothée Chalamet , Elisabeth Moss , and more). To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails .

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Community Reviews

  • Parents say (4)
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Based on 4 parent reviews

I thought I was a fan.

Quirky, witty, star/studded visual feast, what's the story.

THE FRENCH DISPATCH is writer-director Wes Anderson 's nostalgic homage to 20th century newspaper and magazine writers and foreign correspondents. The movie's title refers to the name of a fictional American newspaper's magazine supplement: The French Dispatch of the Liberty, Kansas Evening Sun. The film follows the publication's editor, Arthur Howlitzer Jr. ( Bill Murray ), and his eclectic group of writers in the 1960s and '70s in the fictional town of Ennui-sur-Blasé. It shows four different stories and the writers responsible for them. There's a local-color piece by photojournalist Herbsaint Sazerac ( Owen Wilson ); "The Concrete Masterpiece," an in-depth profile of imprisoned artist Moses Rosenthaler ( Benicio Del Toro ) by arts & culture writer J.K.L. Berensen ( Tilda Swinton ); and "Revisions to a Manifesto," a feature about a 1960s youth revolt in Paris by Lucinda Krementz ( Frances McDormand ), which stars Timothée Chalamet as one of the main protesting revolutionaries. In another vignette, James Baldwin-inspired writer Roebuck Wright ( Jeffrey Wright ) recalls, via a talk show, one of his most thrilling stories -- "The Private Dining Room of the Police Commissioner" -- about a law enforcement officer ( Mathieu Amalric ) whose son was abducted while Roebuck was visiting him for a dinner prepared by a renowned chef.

Is It Any Good?

The auteur theory lives on in Anderson's well-performed, intricately staged homage to a time when editors and journalists were believed -- and beloved. While it's not necessary to read the New Yorker archives to enjoy The French Dispatch , it helps to be familiar with Baldwin, Lillian Ross, Mavis Gallant, Joseph Mitchell, Wallace Shawn, and other members of the United States' mid-20th century literati. All of the actors, whether longtime Anderson company members or new additions to his ensemble, seem to be having a grand time, but the standout heavy lifting is done by Wright, McDormand, Chalamet (whose role was reportedly written specifically for him), and Swinton. Léa Seydoux gives a mostly wordless (and nude) performance as Del Toro's prison guard/lover/muse. Wilson, Brody, Murray, and the gang are fun to watch, naturally, but Anderson's films aren't as much about the actors as they are about the director himself.

Here's where Anderson and his crew shine: the intricate set-building and art direction. Every detail in The French Dispatch , from the hilarious "The Kids Are Grumpy" graffiti to the prison-art gallery pieces to the mannered hair and costumes, looks as purposeful and precise as in a stop-action film. Part of that meticulous style, however, is that the emotional core of Anderson's films is secondary to the overall aesthetic. One needn't be a film student to pick out what Anderson's movies look like, but what they make audiences feel is a different story. There's laughter, there's melancholy, there's appreciation of everything from the clever character and place names to the absurdity of Tony Revolori and Del Toro playing the same character at different stages in his adult life. But ultimately, the movie remains emotionally at a distance, and for a story about journalists, that may be appropriate ("journalistic neutrality" is remarked upon at least four or five times), but it's also a bit disappointing. Go for the iconic Anderson touches, stay for a few notable moments and scenes, and recall the great foreign correspondents of the past, but don't expect some grand revelation.

Talk to Your Kids About ...

Families can talk about which of the various "stories" in The French Dispatch you feel is the most compelling. What resonated with you about it?

The French Dispatch has a lot of comedy, but it's also violent. Is stylized violence less intense than realistic violence? What about the sex? How is it portrayed? What values are imparted?

Do you think it helps to know about the real journalists that the movie is paying tribute to? What if you're not familiar with the historical references? Does the movie still work?

Movie Details

  • In theaters : October 22, 2021
  • On DVD or streaming : December 28, 2021
  • Cast : Timothée Chalamet , Elisabeth Moss , Owen Wilson
  • Director : Wes Anderson
  • Inclusion Information : Female actors
  • Studio : Searchlight Pictures
  • Genre : Comedy
  • Topics : History
  • Run time : 103 minutes
  • MPAA rating : R
  • MPAA explanation : graphic nudity, some sexual references, and language
  • Last updated : December 10, 2023

Did we miss something on diversity?

Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.

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The French Dispatch (2021) Review

A full-course meal for magazine lovers everywhere.

Ridge Harripersad

The French Dispatch

Brutalist Review Style (Version 2)

I will admit, as I anxiously waited for the lights in the theatre to go dim and the previews to begin, I profusely thought to myself, “How the hell have I not seen a Wes Anderson film ?” I told my friends, and they were impressed rather than insulted. As soon as the credits rolled, I realized I was starving and parched for more stories from beyond my hometown to whet my barren, dry brain. The French Dispatch makes me appreciate that even the simplest of unknown, small towns can offer the most interesting (mis)adventures when you look at their citizens with a ridiculously large microscope.

Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch can be oversimplified as a comedy-drama anthology. After thinking about how the film was primarily shot in 4:3, it’s like Anderson slipped in a little cinematography joke with the numbers four and three. The choice to have the story be told like it’s supposed to be in a print magazine is evident from beginning to end, with titles popping on the screen such as “Obituaries”.

The French Dispatch (2021) Review 3

The storyline can also be thought of as a full-course meal, with the introduction offering a little olive tapenade appetizer, the three stories making up the confit de canard for the entrée and finally, for the dessert, crème brûlée for a sweet ending to tie the whole dining and viewing experience together. Alternatively, the three stories in The French Dispatch can be a three-piece meal made by three different chefs to deliver a delectable dining experience independently.

The beginning opens with a fixed capture of individual pieces of paper hanging on mechanical hooks, travelling left to right, from the background into the foreground—a typical mechanization of the 20 th Century printing press. The wonderful, Anjelica Huston, narrates how the death of the American, French emigrated editor-in-chief, Arthur Howitzer Jr. (Bill Murray), took place.

“The choice to have the story be told like it’s supposed to be in a print magazine is evident from beginning to end…”

It’s revealed through more explanation that he ran an American magazine called “Liberty Kansas Evening Sun”, which he started when he came from Kansas to the fictional French town of Ennui-sur-Blasé. A fitting name that translates to “Boredom on Blasé”—a great way to intricately describe how this town is unimpressive and craving some excitement. Oddly enough, the stories that Liberty publishes give their readers a sweet, white powder high with the mouthwatering writing its journalists and head chef, Arthur, bring to the table with each issue.

The French Dispatch (2021) Review 5

It would be a disservice to this masterclass flick without bringing attention to Anderson’s meticulous direction. One of the first scenes with the magazine news team trying to piece together their final issue is squarely suffocating the screen with its cast members crammed into the chosen aspect ratio of The French Dispatch . However, Anderson does this with purpose, to set up quick-fire jokes when the camera pans out or shifts focus on visual quips. Murray’s bored, stone-faced delivery is perfect for the wonderful stories that come out of his writing kitchen. 

Before the main course begins, one of Liberty’s writers, Herbsaint Sazerac (Owen Wilson), gives a short, detailed description of the town of Ennui from his perspective of cycling through the town’s cobblestone streets and Venetian-like waterways. What he describes and writes about the common folk of Ennui is as simple as a white restaurant plate.

Not much happens other than the typical eight bodies that wash up in the river annually and the recurring rising water levels that flood the lower parts of the city with grimy sewage water and gallons of slimy, black worms. Tasty! Wilson’s serious fascination with the city’s plain routines sells the drab and ominous factor the three stories to follow will be staged around.

The first course begins with one of three tales which centres around the magnificent characters: Moses Rosenthaler ( Benicio Del Toro ), Simone (Léa Seydoux), Julian Cadazio (Adrien Brody) and the writer of the account, J.K.L. Berensen ( Tilda Swinton ). This wonderful ensemble brings an insightful look at how there can be certain people in prison who have so much to offer society, even if his muse was found after killing and dismembering two men.

The French Dispatch (2021) Review 4

Del Toro and Seydoux’s on-screen love invites so much dark humour that it had me hooked and laughing without remorse. Brody and Berensen’s use of fast-paced dialogue served as side dishes to help moments of exposition and afterthoughts best kept to oneself. This youthfulness love and deeper meaning translates into the second tale of The French Dispatch .

The second Liberty story features a profile journalist, Lucinda Krementz (Frances McDormand), Zeffirelli (Timothée Chalamet ) and Juliette (Lyna Khoudri). I believe this part of the main course summed up the common cautionary fiction of teenage angst and dying in one’s ‘prime age’. This part of The French Dispatch was probably the least interesting of the three to me—being how it’s a too familiar take on adolescents “taking on the world”. The outrageous naivety of young revolutionaries is sold well by Chalamet and Khourdi’s disillusioned, fully aware performances that can be taken with a pinch of salt in the sea of many similar coming-of-age romances.

“The final narrative is the most ambitious of the meaty menu in The French Dispatch.”

The final narrative is the most ambitious of the meaty menu in The French Dispatch . The food journalist of Liberty, Roebuck Wright (Jeffrey Wright), recounts his brilliant dining experience with Ennui’s police commissioner, The Commissaire (Mathieu Amalric). The cast also features Lieutenant Nescaffier (Stephen Park), the Talk Show Host (Liev Schreiber), The Chauffeur ( Edward Norton ), Albert the Abacus ( Willem Defoe ) and The Showgirl (Saoirse Ronan).

The French Dispatch (2021) Review

Everyone’s role in this thrilling, wacky ride enhances the Noir experience, along with an unusual Archer -style animation of a car chase. Arguably, the pièce de résistance was that Jeffrey Wright plays their outstanding, typographic memory character, so fine-tuned with food as it blends into the action happening around them.

“The French Dispatch just leaves me wanting to digest more stories from Ennui’s writers and people.”

The bittersweet end closes with all the Kansas Liberty writers and staff attempting to write an obituary on Arthur that ends with them getting the basic facts down, but as the camera pans out, the inaudible dialogue spells out there’s so much more to learn about Arthur before his work at publication. This rendition of writing out of Anderson’s adoration for The New Yorker successfully captures the spirit of journalism, ensuring that the best of stories can be told from the dull town of Ennui or anywhere else in the world.

I enjoyed the stacked cast immensely with their cutting-edge approach and distinguishing flavour to each character. The French Dispatch just leaves me wanting to digest more stories from Ennui’s writers and people. I will never leave a single Anderson movie uneaten again.

Final Thoughts

Ridge Harripersad

Ridge has almost always grown up around three things: Star Wars, video games, anime, manga, TV shows, films, basketball, hockey, volleyball, and anime. He typically writes about—you guessed it—anime-centric content. When he is not doing any of those things, he is usually trying out something new like streaming on his Twitch channel @wrainsparrow.

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The french dispatch review: overstuffed & dull, not wes anderson's best.

The result is a lighthearted story, but one that is deeply frustrating, sluggish and unengaging, attuned to its stylish details above all else.

Inspired by writer-director Wes Anderson’s love of The New Yorker , The French Dispatch indeed plays out like an ode to journalism, though one that isn't as impressive in story as it seems. Anderson has always had a distinct visual style and storytelling beats. In The French Dispatch , he takes those markers and magnifies them, though in this instance it's a detriment to the pacing and execution. The result is a lighthearted story, but one that is deeply frustrating, sluggish and unengaging, attuned to its stylish details above all else.

The French Dispatch follows expat journalists covering the fictitious French city of Ennui-sur-Blasé under the direction of their editor (Bill Murray), with each segment bringing the written stories from the publication to life in colorful fashion. The first segment, “The Concrete Masterpiece,” tells the story of a convicted felon (Benicio Del Toro), his jailer (Léa Seydoux), and the arts dealer (Adrien Brody) who profited off of him during his imprisonment. The second segment, “Revisions to a Manifesto,” sees a writer (Frances McDormand) covering a student revolutionary (Timothée Chalamet), with whom she has an affair. The third, and final, story, “The Private Dining Room of a Police Commissioner,” follows a journalist (Jeffrey Wright) as he retells an old story he once wrote that centered around a chef/police officer who investigates a kidnapping case.

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The French Dispatch unfolds like the magazine it's influenced by. However, while it may be inspired by journalism, it isn’t very interested in journalists beyond the stories they weave for the eponymous publication. The articles literally come to life, with the segments only briefly intercut with scenes detailing the process behind them. The ones putting in the work aren’t given their due, with Anderson’s screenplay swiftly moving from one section to another, the journalist’s personalities lost amid the grandeur of the stories they’re telling. The humanity that should imbue every scene is missing, with Anderson primarily focused on the theatricality of the events that unfold, and even then it’s not very interesting.

In many ways, The French Dispatch is a highly stylized, but idyllic stroll through the craft of producing stories for a publication. The film can be charming, yet cold and empty; energetic, but tedious. The characters are fast-talking, the humor absurd. The direction, cinematography, production design, and costumes are stunning, detailed, and pristine. And yet The French Dispatch lacks depth. Each frame is clean, every transition deliberate, but there is an air of pretentiousness, with the film’s stories having no heart or real intrigue. What's more, The French Dispatch focuses none of its time on the editor, how he runs the Dispatch beyond a few signs — one that reads "no crying" — or the relationships he's forged with his employees.

The film’s second story, “Revisions to a Manifesto,” sees McDormand’s Lucinda Krementz having an affair with Chalamet’s Zeffirelli. Anderson makes light of their relationship, which is meant to showcase Lucinda’s struggles with journalistic integrity, and the revolution itself (which is kept vague). It never feels like the events carry any weight though, proceeding emptily to the next moment, tied loosely together with narration that is far too overstuffed with exposition. Anderson’s brushes with racism or the prison industrial complex are glossed over to maintain the film’s droll intentions.

That said, the first story is the best of the three, more fascinating and whimsy in a way that somewhat works. It helps that the characters complement each other in memorable ways — Del Toro is gruff, blunt, but sad as the exploited prisoner, and Brody sharp and over-the-top. With Seydoux thrown into the mix as the jailer-turned-muse and the colored paintings standing out amid the black and white cinematography, "The Concrete Masterpiece'' is the most engaging and boisterous segment. Beyond that, and despite a star-studded and talented cast that includes Elisabeth Moss, Owen Wilson, Tilda Swinton, Christoph Waltz (and even a cameo from The Grand Budapest Hotel's  Tony Revolori), The French Dispatch is a beautifully made, but dull and pedantic entry from Anderson.

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The French Dispatch was released to theaters on October 22, 2021. The film is 108 minutes long and is rated R for graphic nudity, some sexual references and language.

Key Release Dates

The french dispatch.

movie review for the french dispatch


"marred by excessive nudity, political correctness and obscenities".

movie review for the french dispatch

What You Need To Know:

Miscellaneous Immorality: Kidnapping of young boy, boy is held hostage.

More Detail:

THE FRENCH DISPATCH is a droll, satirical comedy telling four stories about a French town called Ennui-sur-Blasé, from the pages of a magazine edited by an American expatriate, published by a newspaper located in Liberty, Kansas. Meticulously crafted by Writer/Director Wes Anderson, THE FRENCH DISPATCH is funny and sometimes touching in quirky, winsome ways, but the four stories contain extreme nudity in one story, strong foul language, some Marxist political correctness, homosexual references, and other immoral content.

Bill Murray plays Arthur Howitzer, Jr., the elderly American editor of the magazine and provides the connecting link to between the stories. Years ago, Arthur convinced his wealthy newspaper family, which runs the Evening Standard in Liberty, Kansas, to let him go to France and start a special magazine insert for the newspaper. He loves working with the writers, though he sometimes haggles with them over expenses.

Each of the four stories in the movie are narrated by the writer.

The first story stars Owen Wilson as a travel writer who gives a bicycle tour of the town of Ennui-sur-Blasé, including the rats who’ve built a large domicile next to the underground subway. When he finishes his tour, Arthur asks him if he couldn’t make his article a little less seedy, but the writer refuses.

The next story involves a painter named Moses who’s also an inmate in the local insane asylum for murdering two bartenders. After serving 10 years of a 50-year sentence, Moses decides to take up basket weaving before he becomes so bored and depressed that he commits suicide. Moses decides basket weaving is too simple minded for him, so he asks the female guard, Simone, for some paints, canvas, brushes, and turpentine. Simone begins an affair with the scruffy-looking, bearded Moses, who soon convinces her to pose fully nude for him. The resulting abstract painting attracts the attention of an art dealer named Julian, who convinces his two uncles to help him buy the painting for their business. Julian anxiously awaits Moses’ next painting, but he’s in for the surprise of his life.

The magazine’s middle-aged social writer, Lucinda, narrates the third story. Lucinda begins covering a student protest movement at the local college. Led by an emaciated young man named Zeffirelli living with his parents, the students want coed dorms so that the males can be with the females. Lucinda loses her journalist objectivity and starts editing the manifesto Zeffirelli is writing. Soon they are sleeping together, though the boy is also sleeping with one of the female protest leaders, a hard-nosed young woman named Juliette. Eventually, the student protest becomes more political when one of their fellow students returns from war and refuses to go back.

In the fourth story, a black homosexual writer is assigned to attend a fancy dinner prepared by the renowned police cook of the city’s police commissioner. The story becomes an exciting, nail-biting thriller when some thugs kidnap the Commissioner’s young son, Gigi, who has a knack for solving crimes like his father. They threaten to kill Gigi unless the Commissioner releases the local crime syndicate’s accountant, who was recently arrested.

The movie ends with all the magazine’s writers sitting around the offices writing the obituary for Arthur, who suddenly died of a heart attack. It becomes clear they loved the man because of his kindness, encouragement and professional support.

Writer/Director Wes Anderson (ISLE OF DOGS and THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL) dedicates THE FRENCH DISPATCH to about 10 famous writers of yesteryear whose work has appeared in The New Yorker magazine. Anderson says the movie is inspired by his love for the New Yorker, the kind of writers the magazine publishes and his love for French cinema. The movie is set in France, where Anderson has spent most of the last 20 years, but in a fictional city representative of the country.

THE FRENCH DISPATCH is meticulously crafted. As usual with a Wes Anderson movie, the sets and lines of dialogue are elaborately designed and written. There are multiple references to French culture, French movies and real-life writers and articles. Parts of some scenes are shot in black and white, which shifts to color photography at crucial moments.

The movie’s droll humor and satirical comedy won’t appeal to everyone, but the movie has so many comical moments that laughter comes easily. The movie also contains some touching, exciting moments. Anderson gets excellent performances from his cast, but the performances are sometimes designed to come across as a little stilted or unemotional. Anderson seems to prefer more nuanced performances, not highly emotional ones. The best stories are the first and the fourth one, though the second one has some unexpected surprises.

That said, THE FRENCH DISPATCH is marred by strong objectionable content. For example, the story about the painter in the insane asylum contains full frontal nudity when the man starts painting his female guard, who’s totally naked in multiple shots. The movie also has some strong obscenities, including a few “f” words. Finally, THE FRENCH DISPATCH contains some Marxist political correctness, including references to the homosexuality of the black writer, who’s partially patterned after the famous black communist homosexual writer James Baldwin. The black writer in the story isn’t as political as Baldwin, but his character is clearly an homage to the erudite personality that Baldwin often projected. Eliminating the extreme nudity and unnecessary foul language would make THE FRENCH DISPATCH much less objectionable. The movie’s worldview is rather ambiguous and mixed. It seems to lack a moral, religious perspective except in the sequence where the police and some residents act to rescue a kidnapped boy.

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movie review for the french dispatch


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