The French Dispatch

The French Dispatch ★★★★★

Wes Anderson's The French Dispatch is the only movie I can recall that’s structured in the form of a literary magazine (complete with an opening obituary, an on-the-town briefing by a cycling Owen Wilson, and three feature stories from noted Dispatch journalists). Heck, there's even a cartoon section near the end of the film. Above all, this is a moving love letter to a rag-team group of expatriates who have found a home abroad in Ennui-sur-Blasé, France - far away from the magazine's base in Liberty, Kansas.

The most moving scene in the film involves Stephen Park’s Lt. Nescaffier, the personal chef to the Police Commissioner, musing aloud to journalist Roebuck Wright (Jeffrey Wright) about the reasons they both left their homelands to seek something else in France. The exchange was nearly cut out of Roebuck's piece, but French Dispatch editor Arthur Howitzer Jr. (Bill Murray) insists he include it. Not only is the scene the crux of Roebuck's article, it's also the emotional glue that holds the film together, bringing the thematic focus into clear sight.

As always with Anderson’s films, there’s an undercurrent of melancholy to every scene - a wistfulness buried beneath the staggering amount of visual information and gags packed into each frame (I always experience sensory overload when watching an Anderson film, never more so than with The French Dispatch). And the formal inventiveness never stops for a moment. One of my favorite bits is Roebuck’s journey through the labyrinth police station, in which he simultaneously addresses the audience and tries to figure out where the hell he is. The scene feels like a deconstruction of direct-address long-takes, in which a character leads us through a new world.

Another favorite: in the film's first story, titled The Concrete Masterpiece, writer J.K.L. Berensen (Tilda Swinton) stops midway through her lecture on the work of incarcerated artist Moses Rosenthaler (Benicio del Toro), crosses downstage and utters a series of revelations about Rosenthaler so disconcerting that it completely changes the tone of the scene. I’ll have to see the film again to pinpoint exactly what Anderson is doing here, but it caused an audible shift in my cinema audience.

All of the actors are wonderful here - particularly Wright and Murray, who share a scene late in the film that powerfully illustrates the protective home Howitzer Jr. has provided for his journalists. The French Dispatch is well-worth the wait.