‘The French Dispatch’ Presents a Journalistic Panorama

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The French Dispatch (CREDIT: Searchlight Pictures. © 2020 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation All Rights Reserved)

Starring: Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Elisabeth Moss, Jason Schwartzman, Fisher Stevens, Griffin Dunne, Wally Wolodarsky, Anjelica Bette Fellini, Anjelica Huston, Jarvis Cocker, Tilda Swinton, Benicio del Toro, Tony Revolori, Adrien Brody, Léa Seydoux, Lois Smith, Henry Winkler, Bob Balaban, Denis Menochet, Frances McDormand, Timothée Chalamet, Lyna Khoudri, Alex Lawther, Mohamed Belhadjine, Nicolas Avinée, Lily Taleb, Toheeb Jimoh, Rupert Friend, Cécile de France, Guillaume Gallienne, Christoph Waltz, Jeffrey Wright, Mathieu Amalric, Stephen Park, Winston Ait Hellal, Liev Schreiber, Edward Norton, Willem Dafoe, Saoirse Ronan, Hippolyte Girardot

Director: Wes Anderson

Running Time: 103 Minutes

Rating: R for Art Model Nudity, Surprising Sexual Partners, and Some Language Here and There

Release Date: October 22, 2021 (Theaters)

The French Dispatch is about the staff and subjects of an American magazine that covers a small but colorful fictional French town. It’s published as an insert in the Liberty, Kansas Evening Star newspaper, so it’s basically like a midwestern Parade, but with the vibe of The New Yorker. Which all begs the question: who is the intended audience of The French Dispatch*? (*The fictional newspaper, that is, not the movie of the same name. [Although by extension, you could ask the same thing about the movie, though that conversation would be a little different.]) It feels like somebody dared Wes Anderson to create an anthology film of the most esoteric stories ever and he then declared, “Challenge accepted.” As I watched I wondered what made these stories worth telling, and I believe that the answer is: they’re worth telling because they’re worth telling. So in that way, The French Dispatch is very much like Little Women.

The fictional French town in this movie is called Ennui-sur-Blasé, which literally translates as “Boredom-on-Blasé,” but there’s no way you’ll be bored while watching a film that’s as overstuffed as this one. Overwhelmed, perhaps, but not bored. (But if somehow you are bored, please let me know about your experience. It’s interesting when someone’s reaction is so different than mine!) The anthology structure is composed into five sections, two to set the context and three to dive deep. First up is an introduction of the staff, particularly editor-in-chief Arthur Howitzer Jr. (Bill Murray), a my-way-or-the-highway type, except when he readily makes concessions to his writers’ peculiarities. Then travel writer Herbsaint Sazerac (Owen Wilson) takes us on a bicycle tour to provide color for the town. The fleshed-out stories include the journalist-subject pairings of Tilda Swinton covering incarcerated artist Benicio Del Toro; Frances McDormand covering student revolutionaries led by Timothée Chalamet and Lyna Khoudri; and Jeffrey Wright as a food journalist covering the story of a police officer’s kidnapped son that also features a very talented chef.

The French Dispatch is a love letter to a time and a place when you could throw whatever budget you felt like at whatever story you felt like covering. Based on the accounts of people who were involved in that era, that characterization actually isn’t that far off from how 20th century American journalism really was run. But it’s so different from journalism’s current state of affairs that it might as well be from another universe. Appropriately enough then, The French Dispatch felt to me like it was beaming in from an alternate dimension. I don’t know how these stories could have ever possibly been conceived, but I’m glad that I’ve now experienced them.

The French Dispatch is Recommended If You Like: The New Yorker, Symmetrical geometric arrangements, French pop music, Skinny mustaches

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Bylines

This Is a Movie Review: ‘7 Days in Entebbe’ Takes the Tension Out of Hijacking, But It Has Really Great Dance Scenes

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CREDIT: Liam Daniel/Focus Features

This review was originally published on News Cult in March 2018.

Starring: Daniel Brühl, Rosamund Pike, Lior Ashkenazi, Eddie Marsan, Mark Ivanir, Denis Ménochet

Director: José Padilha

Running Time: 106 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Threats of Violence Moreso Than Actual Violence and Outbursts Under Pressure

Release Date: March 16, 2018 (Moderate)

What does it mean when the best parts of a docudrama about a hijacking and a hostage rescue are its dance scenes? I don’t think this happens often enough to make any generalized conclusion, but in the case of 7 Days in Entebbe, it means that the dance parts are enthralling, while the actual meat of the story is not particularly attention-grabbing. And that is a problem, because while the dancing does take up a relatively significant portion of the running time, it still only amounts to about 10%. If Entebbe had suddenly turned into a full-fledged presentation of hoofing it up, it would certainly be strange and it would go against the promise its premise makes, but it would be a whole hell of a lot more interesting than what we have.

The nominal focus of the film is the 1976 hijacking of a plane en route from Tel Aviv to Paris by a group of two Germans and two Palestinians. They take the passengers hostage, rerouting them to Uganda, where they stow them away with the unlikely help of Ugandan president Idi Amin. They demand a ransom and the release of Palestinian and pro-Palestinian militants, making some provocative statements along the way, such as a claim that Israel is “the heir of Nazism.” The hostage operation offers little in the way of knuckle-biting thrills, and the film’s political bent is too ill-defined to say anything much beyond, “Israel and Palestine are stuck in an eternal impasse.”

But back to the dancing, because that’s the only aspect of this film that I really want to talk about. Choreographed by Ohad Naharin and performed by the Batsheva Dance Company, the dance scenes are justified by a subplot in which one of the dancers is the girlfriend of an Israeli commando. That justification is remarkably thin, but not unwelcome, considering the electric charge of the performances. About a dozen dancers are arranged sitting in chairs in a semicircle, popping up in stiff poses when the music hits an explosive note. The commando’s girlfriend has been struggling, and she keeps falling when everyone else stands up. But this routine is so powerful that that mistake could legitimately be part of the routine, and it would make perfect sense. Bottom line: if you’re an action aficionado, Entebbe will be sorely disappointing, but if you’re an appreciator of dance, summon the patience to deal with some boring action for the opportunity to witness some brilliant movement.

7 Days in Entebbe is Recommended If You Like: The existential prison of the Israel-Palestine conflict, Pina

Grade: 2 out of 5 Humanitarian Hijackers