Film Review: The French Dispatch – London Film Festival 2021

Reviewer: Maryam Philpott

Writer and Director: Wes Anderson

Wes Anderson’s latest film The French Dispatch is another conceptual piece based around the content of a magazine, given the director’s usual quirky and distinctly recognisable style. One of the Headline Galas at the London Film Festival, Anderson’s approach is all we have come to expect from a filmmaker who can command tiny cameos from his regular ensemble, sewn together into an episodic volume of stories with a morality tale function.

When the Editor-in-Chief of The French Dispatch dies suddenly, his will stipulates that the magazine should instantly fold. The very last edition will include a cycling tour, a prison artist and his muse, a young chess-playing revolutionary and the dastardly kidnap of a policeman’s precocious child. As the staff gather to honour their Editor, someone must write his obituary.

Anderson’s movie retains that mid-century, European feel that continues to fascinate the director, and each story is connected by his confectionary box-style love of cobbled streets, medieval architecture and places of societal activity. Using a mix of black and white film with touches of colour to reflect where photographs may be included in the publication, The French Dispatch is executed with care and precision, incorporating animation and illustration to vary the presentation style.

As a concept, it largely works, although invariably some of the essays are more engrossing or entertaining than others. Benicio del Toro and Adrien Brody are hilariously deadpan as the psychotic inmate and art dealer who suggest that cultural significance should defy ordinary morality, while the ever-watchable Timothée Chalamet and Frances McDormand grasp the comedic silliness of the serious political activist and independent reporter caught in a French student uprising.

The final story les by Jeffrey Wright suffers partly from going last by which time the anthology fun is wearing off, but it also has an overly convoluted structure in which the writer retells the original abduction tale to a chat show host, both layers of which are being recounted to the Editor as part of the journalist’s submission. These unnecessary layers seem to be there just for the sake of it.

Anderson’s regular cast are all present and correct; in addition to del Toro, Brody and McDormand, there’s Tilda Swinton, Ed Norton, Rupert Friend, Saoirse Ronan and Mathieu Amalric, some in tiny roles showing the power of the director to unite Hollywood’s biggest names. Joining them are Léa Seydoux, Christoph Waltz, Liev Schreiber, Billy Murray and Elisabeth Moss in a vast piece that must have had agents scrambling to find availability.

Fans of Anderson will enjoy all the usual jaunty humour and comic strip storytelling that delights in the heightened worlds the director creates. Other moviegoers may feel you have seen it all before, applied well and with class, but the same tropes nonetheless. A living newspaper has been done on stage and now Anderson brings a filmic magazine to the screen.

The French Dispatch is screening at the London Film Festival.

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The Reviews Hub Film Team is under the editorship of Maryam Philpott.

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