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Simmering Style Over Substance in The French Dispatch

Updated: Feb 27, 2023

This is one piece in a collection of 10 film reviews submitted by this year’s New Wave Jury members at Cornwall Film Festival 2021. The collection tackles recent films that stood out as radical works of filmmaking. You can read the other reviews here.

The last sensation that a filmmaker wants you to feel is boredom. A film can be uninspiring, lazy, contrived, implausible, but boring may well be the bedrock of descriptions for an artist practicing any given medium -- but with The French Dispatch (2021), I barely blinked. This film is truly captivating. From frame one to the denouement, Wes Anderson’s latest feature is a risk for the director, but it sparkles in the midst of outstanding October releases.

This film is a sweet shop for visuals and heartwarming beats, backboned by another enchanting score from Alexandre Desplat. It's stuffed to the brim with well-assembled production design, a career-high achievement in Anderon’s record of detailed cinematic mise-en-scene. Each frame is glimmering with small intricacies, teeming with visual life, demanding another look, another watch.

However, I admit that with a plethora of actors whom I sincerely admire, I was disappointed at how brief their scenes lasted. Whilst I still enjoyed their quirky, deadpan performances, I had expected more screen time for some of my favourite performers. Despite this personal note, the film delivers excellently with its vast all-star cast. I just wish that some of them didn’t feel like cameos.

Furthermore, Dispatch suffers from the unsatisfying lack of an overarching story or a sense of catharsis to the film by limiting itself to three thematically juxtaposing storylines within a wider storyline about a publication’s decline. But that doesn’t take away from how pleasurable the picture is to experience – it just limits the character arcs, which I value greatly in an Anderson film.

The screenplay is still playful and articulate, even if it lacks much development. Clearly, this wasn’t Anderson’s objective with this film though, as you will still get a kick out of the immersive, simmering aesthetics popping throughout the film. If not that, then you’ll enjoy the snappy dialogue, the gifted performances or the wit and culture bubbling within each sequence.

Whilst it may not resonate quite like the rest of Anderson’s filmography, this film doesn’t stray too far from the pack and is perhaps one of his most ambitious efforts. It must be admitted that this film lacks poignant emotion. You will either leave this film feeling overwhelmed or immensely charmed. This is an eloquent love letter to journalism depicted stylistically yet respectively, with some profound concepts being explored in the subtext of each beat, even if you aren’t given very long to brood upon them.

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