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    THE FRENCH DISPATCH (Wes Anderson 2021)

    WES ANDERSON: THE FRENCH DISPATCH (2021)


    TIMOTHÉE CHALAMET IN THE FRENCH DISPATCH

    Wes Anderson's New Yorker magazine homage is a vast, star-studded twittering machine of delights - requiring further viewings

    Wes Anderson is back at the height of his powers with a film as complex and stylish as anything he has ever done, with a new warmth and depth to the comedy, and even nods to violence and sex. It's a bit of a tough one to review, because it's a collection of discrete parts. He fulfills two long-held dreams: to create a set of short stories; and to make something about The New Yorker magazine. In fact the allusions, references, and homages are many here; one can't encompass even a fraction of them. So it's an anthology film, technically "an obituary, a travel guide and three feature articles," but stylistically very Wes Anderson throughout. It's a wonderful film, one that will grow with rewatchings. If in his oeuvre it's something like his penultimate film and Stefan Zweig homage and my least favorite Wes picture, The Grand Budapest Hotel, it's quite different in structure and while maybe not as funny add colorful, while still as inventive, perhaps more so, it's also more human, warm, specific, intimate and real. It's also really fun, but pretty overwhelming too, especially the first time through.

    Anderson says he has had a connection with The New Yorker magazine since the age of twelve. I can relate. In fact my mother was an early subscriber and decorated a screen with a montage of those famous New Yorker covers when she was in high school or college. There has been no time in my life when the magazine wasn't coming to wherever I lived, if we discount the three years I was in the Middle East. I can remember A.J. Leibling, Saul Steinberg, the great Profiles, James Baldwin, S.J. Perlman, his almost worthy successor Woody Allen (whose talents were literary as well as cinematic and standup), and J.D. Salinger's stories, including the long tantalizing final Glass family one, "Seymour: An Introduction." That's not even to mention The Talk of the Town and the movie reviews, which were always essential reading but became truly meaty and exciting, half satisfaction, half provocation, with the arrival of Pauline Kael. Believe me, there has been a lifetime of riches.

    These are my memories, not Wes's. I'm not sure he cites Steinberg, and Salinger isn't included, and probably Pauline wouldn't have worked. But A.J. Leibling comes with James Baldwin in Roebuck Wright, the composite figure played by Jeffrey Wright, the center figure of the last, strangest and most complicated of the three "feature articles."

    There's another key element here: France.It seems New Yorker cofounder Harold Ross's first beginnings were with The Stars and Stripes in Paris, as I learn from the press kit-like handout that came with my movie ticket. But here the whole "French Dispatch," an expat stand-in for The New Yorker, is an odd offshoot of the Sunday magazine of the Liberty Kansas Evening Sun, published in France, in the made-up town of Ennui-sur-Blasé. (Ross's incarnation here, merged with the magazine's defining 1952-87 editor William Shawn, is Arthur Howitzer, Jr., played by Bill Murray and an important figure but one who appears relatively briefly.

    Anderson has lived in Paris for years now; the whole film was actually shot in the town of Angoulême, in the southwest. Some of France's most famous film actors are in the star-studded cast, including most visibly Léa Seydoux, who's blazing blonde on our screens now in No Time to Die, but simmers as a brunette here as the sultry, surly nude-posihg prison guard Somone. who's the muse and mastermind of insane genius painter and prisoner Moses Rosenthaler. There's also Matthieu Amalric, as the gourmet police chief. There are also Hippolyte Girardot and "Guillaume Gallienne de la Comédie-Française," as that actor is traditionally listed.

    This is truly an unsummarizable film, and I won't begin to try. I'll cite Peter Debruge, of Variety, one of a number of high-profile critics who wrote raves, who provides a clearer overview than I could. His review's title calls the movie a "Dizzyingly Intricate Homage to 20th-Century Newsmen and Women," and let's not forget that, overall, it's indeed that. It's a homage toThe New Yorker, especially its expat Francophile branch, including the aforementioned Leibling and also Lucinda Krementz, played by Frances McDormand and a homage to the writer Mavis Gallant and her series of letters to The New Yorker about the Paris student revolts of 1968. We've seen those referred to dreamily in Bertolucci's 2003 The Dreamers and hauntingly in Philippe Garrel's 2005 Regular Lovers. Here it's comical and jauntily sexy, with Krementz reporting but also sleeping with young revolutionary Zeffirelli (Timothée Chalamet, who dominates the screens already as the Dune princeling Paul Atreides, here frizzy-haired, with a light mustache, and puffing cigarillos). Krementz starts with editing and amending his manifesto, then takes him to bed. To say this is a nutty version of those heady times is an understatement; but everything here is nutty - and so intricately crafted it's a shame Wes Anderson's audience doesn't lend itself to merch and video game versions. (There is a screenplay book and an animated music video but the DVD/Blu-ray isn't out yet.) There is a lovely little animated film inside, by the way, locally made.

    Debruge writes that "apart from Ernst Lubitsch or Jacques Tati, it’s hard to imagine another director who has put this level of effort into crafting a comedy, where every costume, prop and casting choice has been made with such a reverential sense of absurdity." The way absurdity and reverence continually cohabit is a quality uniquely Wes.

    The Roebuck Wright segment is perhaps the one that most calls for further study. It's about a food writer, or at least that's editor Howitzer thinks Wright's "The Private Dining of the Police Commissioner" was about that. There is a lot about the commissioner's chef, the drolly named Nescaffier. But there's a lot more I don't think I followed about the town and the odd doings of the cops. And have I mentioned there is a lot of fast French in this film with subtitles in tiny New Yorker-is print appearing in odd places on the screen so you can't quite read them? That may weigh particularly in the Roebuck Wright section, which includes a lengthy TV interview (with Liev Schreiber as the Talk Show Host) that I didn't focus on well, partly because the set seemed ugly.

    The best "article" arguably is the one about art, "The Concrete Masterpiece" by J.K.L. Berenson. Anderson's art references are all over the place, ranging as far back as Duveen, the mastermind behind key early 20th-century art deals. Berenson (itself a reference to Bernard Berenson, the renaissance art writer and connoisseurship consultant) is a homage to "the legendary Rosamund Bernier." A cherished lecturer and writer for L’oeil, she is new name to me; but we're all familiar with who plays her and is shown art-lecturing with big hair, prominent teeth, and an old-fashioned New York accent: Tilda Swinton. This segment focuses on the relationship between insane, animalistic genius prisoner Moses Rosenthaler (Benicio Del Toro), in the local jail for double homicide, whose guard Simone (Léa Seydoux) poses nude for him and inspires a complex, incomprehensible semiabstract portrait, "Simone, Naked, Cell Block J Hobby Room." This talent is discovered and the work promoted by a family of dubious dealers, Julian Cadazio (Adrien Brody) and his two uncles (Bob Balaban and Henry Winkler). A major issue arises when it's discovered a grand suite of paintings Rosenthaler has made are frescoes and can't be moved from the prison. (This reminded me of Jay De Feo's famous almost-doomed, almost-unmovable "concrete masterpiece," The Rose: reality can be just as complicated and weird as fiction.)

    Well, I can't say I completely understand "The Concrete Masterpiece." But it's about art and that's a field I've been involved with as long as The New Yorker. Now, I have not even discussed the first segment, "The Cycling Reporter" by Herbsaint Sazerac (Owen Wilson), which, focusing on one person, the aforementioned bike-riding scribe, seems lighter (and shorter), like an easy intro to the bigger three that follow, "The Concrete Masterpiece, "Revisions to a Manifesto," and "The Private Dining Room of the Police Commissioner." They're approached backwards in this review, which may be as good an attack as any. It must be pointed out that not only as Debruge says this is "a first-class pastiche" so that all the references have "been recombined into something new and original," and furthermore, rather remarkably, now only is each of the four "stories" a unity coherent unto itself, but the whole, as a portrait of "The French Dispatch" and its equally brilliant editors and writers and France of some time ago, is also unified and coherent. But it goes fast, and as I suggested, it's challenging, as well as enjoyable. But most of all, it's a love letter, and it's full of love.

    Especially after two Hans Zimmer scores, an Alexandre Desplat one was balm to the ears. Film that shifts back and forth from color to black and white is one of the devices played with, like aspect rations, figures in symmetrical pose, and buildings seen in cross-section. Perhaps most memorable - and arousing the desire to watch at home with a freeze-frame option - is the way local French sets are packed with little details, signage, and unique people, labor-intensive detail where Wes' rage for control pays off richer than the naked eye can grasp. It left me hungry for more yet sated by all that was new despite the distinctive trademark style exhibited throughout.

    The French Dispatch, 108 mins., debuted in Competition at Cannes July 12, 2021 and has been featured in many other festivals, including Zurich, New York, London, Hamburg, Busan, Chicago, Tokyo, Taipei and Sydney. US theatrical release Oct. 22. Screened for this review at Century 16, Pleasant Hill, California Oct. 26. Metacritic rating: 75%.


    AT CANNES

    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 10-27-2021 at 03:08 AM.

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