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The French Dispatch

Year: 2021
Production Co: American Empirical Pictures
Studio: Searchlight Pictures
Director: Wes Anderson
Writer: Wes Anderson/Roman Coppola/Hugo Guinness/Jason Schwartzman
Cast: Bill Murray, Adrien Brody, Benicia Del Toro, Léa Seydoux, Timothéee Chalamet, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, Elizabeth Moss, Jeffrey Wright, Mathieu Amalric, Owen Wilson, Bob Balaban, Henry Winkler, Tony Revolori, Christoph Waltz, Cécile de France, Live Schrieber, Willen Dafoe, Edward Norton, Saoirse Ronan, Jason Schwartzman, Fisher Stevens, Griffin Dunne, Anjelica Huston

Like a well made parody of himself, Wes Anderson brings us his most Wes Anderson-ey film ever. Very square framing, very precise, directly-ahead POV blocking, characters staring ramrod straight while they talk straight down the barrel of the camera, incredibly slow pans and the twee-est costuming and set design you'd ever hope to see. If his signature look irritates you this will be like a tick burrowing into soft flesh.

And if that's not enough to convince you of its pedigree there's Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton, Owen Wilson, Frances McDormand, Willem Dafoe, Ed Norton and more of his usual company rounding out the cast.

It's an anthology about the titular American news magazine run in smalltown France in what appears to be the 70s, where the patient and stoic editor Arthur (Bill Murray) loves and respects journalism despite the exasperation with which he lets his star writers run roughshod over his pleas to cut words and get copy in on deadline.

Arthur has actually died at the opening of the film, and though it's hard to keep track of where the story goes outside the telling of the three self-contained tales, it seems to be about the bereft staff lamenting how they're going to close their beloved magazine down now its biggest champion is gone.

But after a whistle stop tour of the town by one of the writers (Wilson) biking around introducing us to the moods, visual aesthetics, culture and people, we're into the three stories.

The first is Tilda Swinton as a Cilla Black-esque art historian standing on a stage telling the story of one of the greatest creative minds in the region. Local murderer Moses (Benicio Del Toro) discovers while imprisoned that he has a penchant for art, and becomes a modern master along with his muse and lover, prison guard Simone (Léa Seydoux).

Art dealer Cadazio (Adrien Brody) becomes determined to manage Moses' career and show his masterpiece collection, but it becomes a comedy of errors when everyone discovers he's painted them on the literal walls of the prison, which they can hardly excavate and take away.

The second story is about (or inspired by) the student uprising that swept France in the late 60s, with Timothee Chalamet as the beatnik youth at the forefront of the movement, as interested in sparring with the beautiful young female movement leader as he is political activism. Frances McDormand is the writer capturing the upheaval from the sidelines who gets too involved with he subject.

The final skit is about the food writer (Jeffrey Wright), who's set to attend a dinner party thrown by the police commissioner (Mathieu Amalric) on the night the commissioner's son happens to get kidnapped, the food writer tagging along on the intriugue and action as the police attempt to foil the plot and rescue the boy, using food to do so.

It's a film made by and for black turtleneck wearing, New Yorker-reading liberal arts-educated cineastes. None of the three main stories were terribly interesting to me, and ordinarily I'd have been impressed with the mise-en-scene (and it does have a very particular, distinctive and assured directorial hand), but at this point it seems like the kind of thing Anderson can do in his sleep, like whip cuts and explosions for Michael Bay.

There's some nicely wry dialogue and it's very artistic, but does that make it an enjoyable watch? If you're as shallow as I felt in my delight at finally getting the chance to see the mouth-watering Seydoux with no clothes on for the first time since Blue Is The Warmest Color, there's at least that.

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