‘The French Dispatch’ is an ode to print journalism

A review of Wes Anderson’s tenth feature film

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Shannon Broderick / Daily Collegian

By Catherine Hurley, Assistant Arts Editor

Print is dead, and in the fictionalized French city of “Ennui-sur-Blasé” (translated to boredom-on-apathy) the publication of The French Dispatch of the Liberty, Kansas Evening Sun dies with its editor-in-chief, Arthur Howitzer Jr.

Described by critics and fans alike as a “love letter to journalism,” Wes Anderson’s “The French Dispatch” plays like flipping through a physical magazine. Three distinct stories and the sets of actors within them neatly outline the Dispatch’s final issue, to be printed after Howitzer’s death.

The film premiered at the Cannes Film Festival this summer and at Amherst Cinema on Nov. 5.

The film begins with bicycling travel writer, Hersaint Sazerac (Owen Wilson) introducing the details of life in an eclectic, anything-but-apathetic city. City boys are “half-drunk on the blood of Christ,” cats line building roofs and 25 bodies are pulled from the river each week, despite health improvements and population growth. Each example is vibrant and exact, consistent with Anderson’s style.

In the first story, “The Concrete Masterpiece,” jailed murderer Moses Rosenthaler (Benicio del Toro) paints abstract portraits of a female prison guard. His work is praised, and art collector Julien Cadazio (Adrien Brody) demands the creation of more pieces, but Rosenthaler is hesitant.

“If ya don’t wish to sell it, don’t paint it,” Cadazio said.

A time jump is introduced by Cadazio saying, “It’s three years later” straight to camera. Rosenthaler paints extravagent works and attracts more attention, but he does so on the prison’s gymnasium walls. The paintings cannot be removed, sold or replicated in their current state, a loss to the desperate Cadazio, who takes the entire wall with him instead. The story, written and narrated by journalist J.K.L. Berensen (Tilda Swinton) is a sad tale of exploitation in the art industry, especially among vulnerable populations like the imprisoned or the mentally ill.

“Revisions to a Manifesto” mirrors the protests of young French revolutionaries in May 1968. Writer Lucinda Krementz (Frances McDormand) reports on the ideas of manifesto-writing teenager Zeffirelli (Timothée Chalamet).

“I cannot envision myself as a grown-up man in our parent’s world,” he said.

Krementz offers corrections to Zeffirelli’s manifesto and sleeps with him during her reporting. The story is based on the work of actual journalists and revolutionaries, yet the fictionalized stakes in the film are far lower than the demands for freedom in France.

“The Private Dining Room of the Police Commissioner” is the final story of The French Dispatch, one that Roebuck Wright (Jeffrey Wright) shares on a talk show years into the future. He set out to profile a local Ennui-sur-Blasé chef and police officer (Stephen Park,) but the chef’s work is nearly left out of the piece entirely. The kidnapping of the police commissioner’s son changes the direction of the night, and Wright and his subjects are thrown into an animated car chase.

Howitzer questions why Wright, as a food writer, writes nothing about food and focuses instead on the kidnapping and events of the night. The decision highlights the editor’s central rule, “just try to make it sound like you wrote it that way on purpose.”

The three stories are printed in the Dispatch’s final issue alongside Howitzer’s obituary, and the staff scrambles to finish in time. Their editor’s body lays in the office as they work because “there’s a strike at the morgue.”

The French Dispatch pairs a large cast, including Saoirse Ronan, Henry Winkler and Elizabeth Moss, with Anderson’s signature writing and directing.

“It’s quite a cast,” said one audience member during the film.

“The French Dispatch” is playing at Amherst Cinema throughout November.

Catherine Hurley can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @cath_hurley.