The French Dispatch is an Art Nerd’s Dream
The French Dispatch is an art nerd’s dream, every type of fine art and artist was used in the making of this film, which moves and sounds like an international magazine, and if you’re a francophile, you are in for a treat.
As one expects from Wes Anderson, the costumes, the sets, and even the actors at times all appear to be handmade, crafted, and meticulously sculpted to play their parts, and like many of his past films, the French Dispatch is read and narrated. But this time its source material is more of a mosaic, a fast-paced collection of ‘articles’ that celebrate French culture from the perspective of American writers abroad.
Which is a very specific combination of things. It’s not just American writers who have a fascination with France, France is the most touristed country on the planet. Before the lockdowns France was getting 89 Million visitors a year, meaning there were more tourists in France in 2019, than there are actual French people (France has a pop. 67 Million).
The French are a strange, wonderful, and confounding people. The fascination is warranted.
I should disclose my bias at this time, as I am French-American, an art lover, and an Editor of an online magazine, so I was completely predisposed to loving this movie. If the fine arts bore you, or you’ve never been to France or care to go, this movie probably won’t speak to you. You’ll feel like a college freshman trying to read Ulysses, or a poorly dressed American asking for directions in Paris.
But! If you like art, or have ever had any kind of fascination with France, this film will feel like a dream.
If you are, or have ever loved a painter, the first section of this film may melt your heart, as Benicio del Toro does an incredible impression of the impressionist Claude Monet, (or pick your favorite 20th-century painter). This section explores, mimes, and lampoons the fine art market, its creators, its dealers, and its patrons and purveyors, with a razor-sharp cast of characters.
Toro embodies the struggle, anguish, and brilliance of an impressionist painter, while his lover and captor, Léa Seydoux, is the perfect embodiment of an artist’s muse, dressed as a dominatrix. Seydoux can say more with just a look, than most actors can say through an entire movie.
She tells Toro in a moment when he is struggling for creative inspiration, when he is doubting himself, when he no longer knows what to paint (a sentiment every creative person goes through) and she tells him in French, what every painter wants to hear…
“You’re going to figure out what to paint”
And you’re going to believe in yourself (like I do)
And you’re going to struggle –”
This section of the film (in a French prison) alone will make the price of admission worth it (initially $20 bucks to rent this film on apple+, WTF?!)
This section has perhaps the greatest collection of faces I’ve seen in a film, the extras felt like there were chosen by a painter for the intricacies of their expressions. Add Adrien Brody and Tilda Swinton and you have an artfully shot, journey that touches on the fine art industry as gently as brush stroke at times, and as hard as a hammer on marble at other times. It is fantastic.
Section two is wholly independent of the first, and takes place in 1960’s France, full of revolutionary thought, strike, sabotage, intellectualism chaos, love, affairs and Frances McDormand. Anyone who has a French fling or an affair with a much older lover, will identify with this section.
Section three is unbridled, noir chaos. There’s a kidnapping, police chases, gunfights, cartoons, and all happening between eleborate French meals. Saoirse Ronan plays a prostitute, while a litany of other A-listers crowd into frame to play cops and robbers.
There’s even an animated section that reminded me of reading Tin Tin as a child. It’s a confusing, fast-paced, dark, beautiful, mosaic of mystery and artful design that will have you scratching your head and thinking about watching it again, while you’re watching it.
It must be something wonderful to work on a Wes Anderson set, because there seems to be a waiting list of incredible actors willing to take even non-speaking roles in his movies.
Oh yeah, Bill Murray plays a the magazine editor, he’s great too.
You can stream The French Dispatch on Amazon & Apple TV now for $5.99. Amusez-vous bien!