‘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: Cézanne et moi

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This review was originally published on News Cult in March 2017.

Starring: Guillaume Canet, Guillaume Gallienne, Alice Pol, Déborah Farnçois, Sabine Azéma

Director: Danièle Thompson

Running Time: 116 Minutes

Rating: R for Artistic Nudity and Best Friends Yelling at Each Other

Release Date: March 31, 2017 (Limited)

Paul Cézanne caresses his wife/model Hortense’s naked chest to more thoroughly know his subject. This could be played as intense intimacy, or it could be discomforting invasiveness. Instead it is an illustration of how the Post-Impressionist painter is dead inside, lost to his art at the expense of his family. That is not to say he lacks passion. Oh no, he has passion to spare for a million still lives and portraits. It is just too untamed to be anything other than destructive.

Cézanne et moi dramatizes the friendship between Cézanne (Guillaume Gallienne) and novelist Émile Zola (Guillaume Canet), but friendship in this context feels like a bit of a misnomer, considering the amount of screen time they spend verbally tearing into each other. It is de rigueur, in life but especially in cinema, that artists’ lives must be tortured. That can be fascinating, but this is just unpleasant. That is a shame, because Gallienne and Canet are both laser-focused in their performances. The shouting matches themselves are not the problem so much as their endlessness. It is essentially the same fight over and over. It is not emotionally draining, just tiresome.

At least the cinematography is splendid. As befitting a film about an artist, the landscapes are beautiful. The French countryside is lush and inviting, but alas, it does not really illuminate anything about Cézanne or Zola’s psyches. The decoration is there to be admired, while the story trudges on. I root for these friends to work through their issues, but I also wish it would all just happen off screen.

Cézanne et moi is Recommended If You Like: Colorful Landscapes

Grade: 2.5 out of 5 Picnics