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CANNES 2021 Competition

Review: The French Dispatch


- CANNES 2021: Wes Anderson delivers the final issue of a magazine that’s full of life, but some pages it’s just better to skip

Review: The French Dispatch
Bill Murray in The French Dispatch

It’s been a long, long wait for Wes Anderson’s latest anthology film, The French Dispatch [+see also:
film profile
, originally supposed to premiere during last year’s Cannes – the one that got away. The good news is that this Cannes 2021 competition title is still rather lovely, if a tad dull, a treat for any journo bemoaning the end of the good old days, when editors cared about their work deeply and wouldn’t complain, at least not too much, about picking up the expenses for midnight snacks at a hotel, even though there is a perfectly good desk in the office.

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Just like Arthur Howitzer Jr (Bill Murray), who likes his expat scribes so much that sometimes he simply keeps them around, even though one has never completed a single article. As they prepare yet another issue of a magazine that “brought the world to Kansas”, nestled in a small French town called Ennui-sur-Blasé, Arthur makes plans of his own – after his passing, the magazine will be no more, so bring on le déluge. And whatever they put together, there is only one rule that he asks everyone to respect: no crying. Not even when writing his obituary.

It’s a delightful beginning, dynamic and just pure Anderson, with pastel colours creating a world that feels like one of those macarons that everyone seems to like so much at the moment – a slightly happier Roy Andersson scene, if you will. But once the actual feature articles, written by The French Dispatch writers for their final outing, start pouring in, things get a bit boring – especially with the interminable “The Concrete Masterpiece” about a painter in prison and his fixation on a female guard, which far exceeds the character limit. Then there is Frances McDormand’s Lucinda Krementz, observing protesting students (fighting for, among other things, free access to the girls’ dormitory) then helping them, then bedding one and predictably worrying about her journalistic “neutrality” a little, plus a tale of kidnapping and gourmet food courtesy of one Roebuck Wright (Jeffrey Wright), who apparently happens to remember everything he has ever written, word for word. Which is scary.

With Anjelica Huston’s soothing voice keeping it all together, it’s hard to stave off sleep at times, save perhaps for Owen Wilson’s outing as a cycling reporter, equally interested in the town’s streetwalkers as he is in rats. It’s almost funny seeing that, for Anderson, it’s perfectly easy to assemble an A-list cast and then give most of them so very little to do. Also, despite the oft-repeated phrase that this is, in fact, a “love letter to journalists”, the crew still wriggled out of the press conference at Cannes – apparently, you can only love them so much. But Howitzer’s preferred piece of advice is bound to ring in one’s ears for longer: “Just try to make it sound like you wrote it this way on purpose.” Anderson, a very purposeful director, has already taken this advice, too. And did so a long time ago.

The French Dispatch is a US-German-French-UK production staged by American Empirical Pictures, Indian Paintbrush and Studio Babelsberg. Searchlight Pictures is acting as its sales agent.

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