The French Dispatch Is a Profoundly Great Film About the Nature of Art and Freedom
If you want to know what you’ll think of the new Wes Anderson movie, The French Dispatch, consider the following description a test: In the opening minutes of the film, we are treated to what amounts to a slideshow and monologue about the fictional French city of Ennui-sur-Blasé (yep), delivered by a character named Herbsaint Sazerac (double yep), a magazine correspondent who wears a muddy brown turtleneck and a dark beret (for those keeping track, we have now achieved a rare triple yep)—and who is played with winsome, deadpan earnestness by a bicycle-riding Owen Wilson. (I regret to inform you that I am out of yeps.)
For some, this will sound insufferably twee and ironic. For others, it will sound twee and ironic in precisely the right proportions, because it will sound…well, like a Wes Anderson movie.
Anderson has been making movies like this—fussy, imaginative, self-contained, whimsical, and aggressively, almost absurdly, symmetrical—for a quarter-century now, to the annoyance of some and the delight of many. Count me among those who take delight in his work: I find Anderson’s movies cleverly amusing at worst, wondrous and moving at best. And The French Dispatch is Anderson at his best. An ecstatic, elaborate tribute to highbrow, general-interest magazines, most especially The New Yorker, it’s a clockwork marvel of intricate imagery and periphrastic wordplay. Just as a Swiss watch justifies itself on the elegant complexity of its time-keeping movement, Anderson’s film justifies its existence on its stylistic brio alone: It’s different to think of another picture so meticulous, so finicky, so dense with detail and winking, knowing reference—except perhaps another Wes Anderson movie.
Anderson’s signature tics are on full display here, possibly even more than in any previous movie he’s made. Every frame is stuffed with detail, every shot is composed with immaculate precision. The tone is part dry comedy, part wryly sentimental melodrama, part zany Looney Tunes escap
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