The French Dispatch

No one will be surprised to discover that the latest film from Wes Anderson is odd. In fact the very definition of quirky in the dictionary uses Wes Anderson as an example to clarify for us what quirky is. The idiosyncratic film maker is back with a movie that relies less on plot than on visual storytelling. That is not to say that there is not also dialogue, because that is equally as important to the visual, but also equally less relevant to the plot. A Wes Anderson film is an immersive cinema experience, but your tolerance of odd will be in direct proportion for your  acceptance of this movie. 

Unlike his previous two films, “Isle of Dogs” and “The Grand Budapest Hotel“, this film goes out of it’s way to ignore plot and embrace instead the compelling nature of language and art to make us want to follow what is going on. The outcome of any of the stories being told here is superfluous to the enjoyment we are to experience from hearing and seeing them. When writing a review of a film, I am always careful to avoid spoilers, that is completely unnecessary here because the plots are mostly meaningless and they meander around the odd characters and locales without really taking us anywhere.

This film is a set of anthologies that are held together by a conceit that is appropriate for the form of stories we are seeing. We are being presented with a tribute to writers who might have been elegant in their language and story construction, but who were mostly consumed for the pleasure of the way they write rather than the importance of the subjects that they wrote about. If you are the kind of person who picks up the New Yorker, to explore unusual slants on culture, or you read Bon Appetite, for the pleasure of preparation and the challenge of imagining taste through only words, then this movie will probably reach you. With an obituary and a brief travel prelude, to set up how everything here is connected, we move to three different stories focusing on art, politics and cooking. 

The actors are all employing a deadpan, dry, style of delivery which is typical of an Anderson film. A smile would be a justification to re-shoot the scene. If an actual human emotion appears, it would undermine the atmosphere of the production and frustrate the director. He does want us to laugh, but only in regards to the absurdity of the characters of the situation, not because we are invested in anyone. We need to take pleasure in the intricate production design, or the clever Rube Goldberg physical elements. Viewers can be stimulated by the color palate or the editing or the miniatures that make up so much of the scenery, but you should not care about a single character in this story, what you should do is listen to them talk. While many of the things they say are absurd, it is the way that they say them that is amusing. Adjectives abound and sentences turn on themselves, but always with a degree of attention to grammar that draws attention to itself. You could easily enjoy just listening to the snappy dialogue, delivered in a sardonic tone, and forgo the visuals. Conversely, you could watch this film unfold with just a musical score and be equally entertained. This is a film where content is unnecessary, style is what you want. 

I can’t be more direct than to say this, if you do not care for Wes Anderson style films, this may be the most obnoxious film you encounter this year, it is the most like his films of any of his films I have seen. (I think he could use that last phrase in one of his movies). You will not be won over by this film. If you like the style of his movies, well that is all that this film has going for it. I’m not sure there are many who will want to explain why the plot doesn’t matter, they will be too caught up with the trees to pay any attention to the forest. 

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