top of page

The French Dispatch LFF Film Review



With its delayed release due to the COVID pandemic, Wes Anderson’s newest film The French Dispatch has finally hit the festival circuit. A portmanteau movie that’s almost bursting at its seams, the film overflows with delight and ingenuity. A director like Anderson, whose style is always forcefully at the surface, may easily fall into the lethal trap of self-parody. But The French Dispatch is refreshing in its audacity, so divorced from logic, so compounded with character studies, shape-shifting its form every chance it gets. In lesser hands, this could all collapse in on itself (it’s no surprise that most anthology films, from Four Rooms to Twilight Zone The Movie, are disappointments). But Anderson has instead delivered an unforgettable film, exhilarating but never tiring, a tribute to journalism and the slightly-sad eccentrics who dedicate their lives to the written word.

The film binds together the various stories retold by the contributors of The French Dispatch, a fictional publication based in Ennui-sur-Blasé. Anderson’s regular collaborators help turn the film into an aesthetic treat, from Robert Yeoman’s photography to Adam Stockhausen’s production design. The film is so composed of kitsch geometries that it begins to resemble some mid-century magazine cover. And Anderson appears to understand the anthology format better than most directors; the ability to move from one narrative to another so swiftly allows for sharp turns that work like palette cleansers (in fact the emphasis placed on food within the film suggests that Anderson is aware how his stories compliment each other like a three-course meal, with aperitifs on either side). Cause-and-effect can take a break while the imagination takes over, revitalising itself every half hour, bringing something new to the table whether a play-within-an-article-within-a-film, or an animated car chase with gangsters and acrobats.

At no point do these casual absurdities feel like a nuisance, they always satisfy and replenish, partly due to their assurance in style, and also due to an impeccable cast. There are too many great performances to go into: Benicio del Toro’s tortured-artist, Adrian Brody’s maddening art dealer, Timothee Chalamet's wannabe-Trotsky, Frances McDormand’s love-weary journalist, and Jeffrey Wright’s Baldwin-like food writer. Tilda Swinton shines as Berensen, her lisp and camp vigour creating a truly memorable character. As does Bill Murray as Arthur Howitzer Jr, the editor of The French Dispatch publication. In typical Murray fashion, Howitzer Jr is laconic and martini-dry; but Murray’s characters are never pure cynicism, there’s always something endearing, sad-eyed but generous. Howitzer Jr has given everyone who writes for him a purpose, he pools together their zeal and helps facilitate their passions. His passing brings with it a contagious melancholy; it’s unclear what fate has in store for these writers after The French Dispatch’s final publication, whether their passions will continue to find nourishment or if they’ll be left without a platform, their talents diminished.

Such malaise permeates each story, and this seems to be at the heart of the film. When Jeffrey Wright’s journalist considers cutting a scene from his article which he considers ‘too sad’, Murray’s Howitzer Jr insists that the sad part is the best part, that it makes the whole article worth reading. Similarly, the film’s power lies in its woefulness: the disillusions of youth, the desperation of ageing, the separation of lovers, the exploitation of art, and finally the dissolution of an editorial family. By the end of The French Dispatch, we’ve come to care for all its oddballs, their mischief and maladjustments. They remind us that it’s okay to believe in wild ideals, to cherish our passions to the point of absurdity.



The UK Film Review Podcast - artwork

Listen to our
Film Podcast

Film Podcast Reviews

Get your
Film Reviewed

Video Film Reviews

Watch our
Film Reviews

bottom of page