Wes Anderson’s films are rarely about the story itself — they’re about how the story can be used as a vessel into the vibrant, fantastical world he creates around it. "The French Dispatch" (2021), Anderson’s latest release, embodies his usual film techniques to the fullest.
"The French Dispatch" recounts different stories published in the film’s fictional magazine, also named "The French Dispatch." There is a prisoner artist who paints nude portraits of a guard, a schoolboy who is writing a manifesto during a revolt to gain constant access to the schoolgirls’ dormitories and a kidnapped child with a chef who poisons nearly all of his captors. These stories are indulgent and entertaining, but they could each exist as their own short film — so what is the point of Anderson's choosing them as the topic of his screenplay? Well, arguably, there is no point. The film is described as a “love letter to journalists set in an outpost of an American newspaper,” but this love letter does not reflect character development or even have a climax and resolution, as all films are supposed to… aren’t they?
That’s the beauty of Wes Anderson. He breaks the storytelling rules, but he still creates something that finds itself at the top tier of Hollywood. This is because Anderson’s films do not stop at the story written in words. Most films, especially those by other esteemed filmmakers, are about the story itself and use other elements and filmmaking techniques to complement the story. Anderson falls out of line with this.He uses setting, character placement and shot angles to create a world that yanks viewers in regardless of whether or not the story is strong enough to do so on its own.
"The French Dispatch" is encapsulating before we even know what is happening. A voiceover accompanies the introduction scene — a montage of the magazine’s headquarters. Each room has an aesthetic that is almost impossible to put into words, but can often be characterized by the symmetry and vibrant pastel colors of each setting. But the magic of "The French Dispatch" extends even past this; thevisuals combine with the odd characters who blend into the environment where eccentricity is the status-quo. Each setting literally transports the audience into a world so unlike their own; my only wish is that Anderson had not chosen to make some scenes black and white so that we could have basked in the color a little longer.
Everything in "The French Dispatch" is lighthearted.Even when characters fail at their tasks and others succeed and some even die, the viewer is never truly emotionally involved. Instead, the piece of news is received and the film moves onto the next scene. Most filmmakers strive to build an emotional connection between the audience and the characters — some filmmakers even judge the success of their films on whether or not the audience cried or smiled, and deem it a true achievement when the audience does both. For Anderson, however, it all comes back to the setting. The film does not lend itself to emotional responses except, perhaps, laughter. The story is built with oddities and brightness because it is meant to provide an escape from the real world into the one Anderson has built. There are no burdens in this utopia — it solely exists for its beauty and peculiarities.
"The French Dispatch" is so much more than a “love letter to journalists.” It is a love letter to the possibilities of cinema, to the joy of storytelling and to the ability to transport audiences to a place they can only dream exists in real life. Every breath "The French Dispatch" takes expels an aura of a world shaking with vibrancy, oddities and eccentricities. Thank you, Wes Anderson.