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The French Dispatch


Year: 2021 
Running Time:
Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1 (Academy) 
Certificate: BBFC 15 Cert – Not suitable for under 15s 
Subtitles: The level of subtitling in this film is unknown to WSC 
Directed by Wes Anderson 
Starring: Timothée Chalamet, Léa Seydoux, Willem Dafoe  
An image from The French Dispatch

Every once in a while there comes an auteur whose style is so distinct and immediately recognisable that one can be certain of the authorship within seconds of starting their film. Wes Anderson (Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Grand Budapest Hotel) is one such director. (Look up the book Accidentally Wes Anderson to notice just how idiosyncratic his work is.) His latest, The French Dispatch, encapsulates this phenomenon to the nth degree, drawing from all his trademarks to the point of self-parody. Like Christopher Nolan’s Tenet from last year, this is a proud display of an artist at his most confident, no one to undermine his vision, his craft perfectly honed, unapologetically unfashionable, yet entirely without portent. It is a truly wonderful thing to witness. Every frame is unmistakably Wes Anderson, each shot and camera movement meticulously constructed, the staging precisely symmetrical; it shifts between vivid colour and black-and-white, live-action and animated, three different aspect ratios; the dialogue is overwhelmingly witty and charming throughout, and delivered in the driest fashion possible, such that one cannot help grinning even when unsure of what exactly the joke is. In short, this is a blissful 108 minutes – particularly (perhaps crucially) if one is fond of Wes Anderson.

At this point the natural question arises: what exactly is the film about, then? Well, to be rather obtuse, the narrative is not all that important. Presented in anthology style, The French Dispatch is a series of vignettes taken from the final issue of the titular newspaper, a foreign bureau linking Liberty, Kansas to Ennui-sur-Blasé, France (consult a translator for the latter). Anderson has dubbed it a “love letter to journalists” but, beyond that, it is also a love letter to France, to the past, and to art in its many forms. Acting out the separate stories is a superlative cast filled past the brim with famous names: Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Elisabeth Moss, Tilda Swinton, Benicio del Toro, Adrien Brody, Léa Seydoux, Frances McDormand, Timothée Chalamet, Christoph Waltz, Jeffrey Wright, Edward Norton, Willem Dafoe, Saoirse Ronan; the list goes on. Accompanying this talented crew are contributions from frequent Wes-collaborators Alexandre Desplat and Jarvis Cocker, who have put together a splendid and fittingly dynamic score that flawlessly captures the general je ne sais quoi (for lack of a French word). The strength of the music factors in to the film being oddly affecting past its facetious tendencies, as each segment ends with a moment of subtle profundity: a longing final look between the tortured artist and his muse, an elegy for a young rebel and his naïve cause, or the reflections of a chef after experiencing a new flavour. The French Dispatch is a visual and aural delight, breath-taking to look at and always humorous, and paced frantically enough that repeat viewings will certainly uncover new references (homework: research the French New Wave) or jokes missed the first go around – see it twice! Of the thirty-five odd films I’ve watched in 2021, this ranks right at the top.


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Screenings of this film:

2021/2022 Autumn Term (digital)
2021/2022 Autumn Term (digital)