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  French Dispatch, The The Ultimate Writer's Block
Year: 2021
Director: Wes Anderson
Stars: Benicio Del Toro, Adrien Brody, Tilda Swinton, Léa Seydoux, Frances McDormand, Timothee Chalamet, Lyna Khoudri, Jeffrey Wright, Mathieu Amalric, Steve Park, Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Bob Balaban, Henry Winkler, Lois Smith, Christoph Waltz, Willem Dafoe
Genre: Comedy, Drama, RomanceBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: It's finally happening, The French Dispatch is publishing its last issue. A pot pourri of articles and analysis, it was based in the French town of Ennui-sur-Blase, and its circulation travelled far and wide, including back to the United States where most of its staff hailed from. Its fans loved it, but all good things must come to an end, so it is up to the editor (Bill Murray) to decide how to wrap it up, just what should be in the pages of its swan song? Sadly, he will not be around to hold that final instalment in his hands, because he dies while it is in production: will the issue be a fitting tribute to his tireless hard work?

Wes Anderson by this point had become a filmmaker who it was common to say was ripe for parody, but can you think of decent Wes Anderson parodies? Not really, since he had transformed his life's work into such a signature dish that the best parodist of this man was Anderson himself, and that was what it was tempting to observe he had concocted here, not so much extending his trademark design as descending into a pit to wallow in. His fans, naturally, said this was exactly what they wanted from him, and it's true they were very pleased with The French Dispatch, while the naysayers found they had nothing new to attack him with.

While there was a sense of Anderson ploughing the same furrow for longer than anyone thought possible, even he was not so constricted by using the same camera set-ups and actors that he never found at least a quasi-fresh variation on all that had gone before. In this instance it was a tribute to the hipster's hipster magazine, The New Yorker, a periodical that was reliably unchanging across its many years in the business. This film presupposed that it was about to shut down, a worry for many in the magazine industry where the romance of print was felt by its adherents from anywhere to specialist efforts to industry insiders to vintage copies of Mayfair, that sense of something to collect was valuable.

Here the final fictional issue consisted of the editor's obituary, a last farewell to Ennui from regular columnist Owen Wilson, and three long-form stories that the reader could lose themselves in over the course of a quiet afternoon. Anderson did manage to elicit that feeling of indulging yourself in a magazine you could really be absorbed in, skimming over details to go back to, picking up the threads of the story through the pleasure of a well-turned phrase and impressive vocabulary, and generally appreciating that the writers appreciated you for taking the time to read all this, and your patronage as well, of course. If anything, each part of this anthology was a degree too dense, as if Anderson was saying, "Well, you didn't get that joke, but watch this again and you'll get this one."

The first story was about Benicio Del Toro as a jailbird who it is decided has a talent for art, paintings to be specific, and operates as a warning against falling for other's unrealistic expectations of you. Adrien Brody was the art agent who exploits him, and Léa Seydoux was his muse who impassively backs away from actual romance. Problems of the heart also afflicted story two, where Frances McDormand acts as a catalyst for the connection between Timothee Chalamet and Lyna Khoudri, two students in the midst of the 1968 Paris riots here played for "ain't they cute, with their ideals and ambitions" laughs. Lastly, Jeffrey Wright was essentially journalist James Baldwin remembering a child kidnapping he became involved with as an observer; all through these excerpts the love of telling stories was always sincere, even when the details were facetious or witty, and that relish of finding the correct word or phrase that any writer would acknowledge was clear. For the fans, sure, but unexpectedly heartfelt in its passions. Music by Alexandre Desplat.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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