Wes Anderson to the Max: “The French Dispatch”

By Eleanor Pahl, Copy Editor

“In short, the picture was a sensation.”

The line, read by Tilda Swinton as J.K.L. Berenson in “The French Dispatch,” is coincidentally an apt descriptor for Wes Anderson’s most recent feature film. Anderson, whose previous works include “Moonrise Kingdom” (2012) and the stop-motion “Fantastic Mr. Fox” (2009), is known for his eccentric and unique visuals and storytelling. This time, Anderson centers on the fictionalized French city of Ennui (translates cheekily to “boredom”) and the expat reporters who inhabit it.

In “The French Dispatch,” Anderson gleefully breaks with his traditional single-story arc and instead paints a convincing picture of an eccentric newsroom in a spirited Parisian-esque city through four distinct acts, told through the visual exposition of articles written by key staff journalists. The acts, distinct in setting, tone, and cast, construct the fictional Ennui from all angles: from inside a gritty prison, to the pretense of high-class art, to sprightly student protests and well-orchestrated police chases.

The star-studded cast, including Anderson’s usual crew of Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton, Adrian Brody, and Owen Wilson are joined by Anderson-newcomers Benicio del Toro, Timothée Chalamet, Léa Seydoux, and Jeffrey Wright, to not only to dazzle viewers with their fame, but truly as masters of their craft. The cast fully and believably inhabit their characters as citizens of Ennui, further reinforcing the world Anderson has created.

Anderson’s distinctive vision of Ennui is built via his characteristic visual tropes: minimal to no use of the rule of thirds, whip pans, overly intricate production design, and use of both black and white alongside full-color shots. The film looks distinctly “Wes Anderson,” and is deservedly a delectable treat for the eyes.

“The French Dispatch” original soundtrack is yet another hit from Alexandre Desplat, a long-time collaborator with Anderson. Baroque and quaint as ever, the imaginative score is filled with plucked harps, thoughtful timpani, and guiding bassoon sections that emulate the childlike wonder of seeing a fantastic playground, much like the joy expat-journalists experience as they encounter the hidden secrets of their chosen city. Desplat’s original score is accompanied by an eclectic mix from artists like Grace Jones, Gus Viseur, Ennio Morricone, and more.

In sum, the film’s unique yet effective structure, impressive cast, production genius, and spot-on soundtrack unite to create one true triumph of filmmaking. As Owen Wilson, portraying the cycling reporter, expresses: “All grand beauties withhold their greatest secrets.” The sentiment reigns true for “The French Dispatch,” as Anderson has painted a city so vivid, so vivacious that viewers are left itching to see more.

The over-the-top sets help to create an immersive town, filled with unique and in many ways pictures but unashamed of its seedier aspects,

An ode to journalists, the joy and pain of covering a community, events sometimes emotional  at other times mundane