The Hallmark of Wes Anderson
As a film about the art of journalism, The French Dispatch fulfills its first few minutes. However, the introduction of so many journalists working in a fictional magazine titled the same as the film, based on The New Yorker magazine, stifled the narrative. The film itself turns out to be a magazine, making it challenging for the audience to understand and swallow all the information repeatedly delivered.
This is also a hallmark of Wes Anderson’s style, easily recognizable for his tendency to capture images that he arranges meticulously to fill the frame. His films have always resembled paintings, less precise, but more like dioramas of miniature buildings or scenes straight from the fantasy in his head. He then fills his world with numerous characters, creating an unusual and intricate structure.
The charm of Wes Anderson’s films lies in their difficulty to imitate due to their unique perfection. However, even though his visuals are delightful and enjoyable for the audience to see, often his films become challenging to follow. Many characters have various backstories, and they all talk fast without allowing much time for the audience to digest the information. This leaves the audience rushing to “pick up” various materials, figure out the structure, and understand the story and its underlying elements.
The Rubrics of The French Dispatch
Such hardship is experienced through the art of journalism while watching The French Dispatch. The film is divided into several short stories, which does not necessarily make it an ordinary anthology. Instead, the rubric or article in the magazine corresponds to each short story, complete with the title, article’s author, and other information that the audience usually encounters on magazine pages. These rubrics cover various topics such as culinary, politics, art, and local cultural travel.
The context of the narrative in the film is that the French Dispatch magazine is in mourning as their editor died suddenly. In his will, he stated that the magazine will be closed. Therefore, the journalists gather to work on the last issue of the magazine. The articles that later become the film are the last writings of several journalists, prepared to be published in this final edition. Towards the end of the film, the audience will see them all coming together to write an obituary for the editor.
The Definition of Clickbait
The common thread of the stories is simply that each character represents an article visualized for the audience to watch. These articles come from a magazine that will no longer be published, which may create a sense of discontinuity while watching the film. However, this doesn’t mean that the film will be empty.
Wes Anderson rarely creates work that is not personally related to him. With The French Dispatch, it is evident that the director’s respect and passion flow not only for the fading art of journalism in the modern world but also for French culture. Online media has replaced magazines, changing the process, methods, and writing styles significantly.
In the modern era, articles and news focus more on speed. The priority is to publish first to garner more views, leading to bombastic titles that often offer little content, broken down into various pages. The film shows that writing articles used to be more complex and an art in itself. Reporting something was about producing a piece that could be read, followed, and contained important but detailed information.
The Art of Storytelling
The definition of storytelling as art is when such art can easily reach the audience, readers, listeners, and viewers. When journalism meets these aspects, the reported article becomes more immersive. The world of journalism and its society understands this very well, and The French Dispatch brings audiences into that world. Personally, the film is very relatable, as it changes one’s mindset to align with the understanding conveyed by the film. When conveying something, it must tell a story but adhere to the rules of writing, which vary depending on different writers. Later, it becomes a trademark of the article itself.
Wes Anderson writes a storytelling article, making it appear easy to do. However, it is not. People would still do it if it were easy, and modern journalism would not devolve into mere gossip. The film is enjoyable, and it is fascinating to see how the director visualizes magazine rubrics into an anthology. He makes the article’s author the main point of view and elevates the subject of the article to the main character.
Apart from the role of a journalist (or, in other words, a vlogger using millennial language), Owen Wilson is the unique star in all the articles. He rides his bicycle and visits different places while telling stories directly to the audience, speaking directly into the film cameras. The audience can see him travel to places that the authors of the articles will later “explore” and narrate one by one. Film critics often describe Anderson’s approach to French antiquity in this way. He plays with visuals that are beautiful yet comical to the audience. Besides being introduced at the beginning, it is also used to explain the fictional city of Ennui-sur-Blasé, which means “boredom-on-apathy,” where the film takes place.
The second article tells the story of Benicio del Toro, who is a convicted murderer with an extraordinary talent for painting. His muse and model are a female warden, who also becomes his lover. The story ends intriguingly when one of the characters does something surprising to his paintings, as he is asked to paint for an exhibition. It is easiest to enjoy when the happenings and motivations are clear.
The part that comes from the art exhibition article alludes to many things, including the exploitation in art and the hidden talent concealed by one small thing.
The Chairman of Manifesto and the Chef
The third article is one of the hilarious ones, dealing with political records that reference real journalistic reports from the history of The New Yorker. When outsider writers get into trouble, their writing may not be as neutral as it should be. The part starring Timothée Chalamet and Frances McDormand is presented humorously, not seriously. For example, the political case revolves around a protest by students who wanted boys to go to girls’ dormitories. The later negotiations involve Chalamet as the chairman of the manifesto, playing chess with the government separately. However, as comedy functions, this section includes a lot of symbolism and sarcasm.
The last article is an interview conducted by Jeffrey Wright with a chef who chose to work in prison until he later became involved in handling a kidnapping case. The audience watches the article in the form of a talk show with snippets of scenes told by the chef. This part has the most action, is difficult to digest, and takes time to become animated in specific parts.
A Love Letter to Journalism
Anderson crafts scene after scene unmitigated, using color to further differentiate perspectives. The audience will witness the same scene, but the film changes colors from black and white to vibrant, adding visual uniqueness. Despite this, it becomes challenging for the audience to follow the film with its numerous characters, colors, and absurd humor. However, there should be no reason to feel sleepy or bored while watching the film, even with so many creations.
The French Dispatch and the art of journalism do not concern themselves with being easy to digest. Instead, it serves as a love letter to the disappearing art of journaling. All attention is devoted to creating a world of boredom and apathy. The characters and comedy may not directly connect with the audience, but they are mobilized to turn the film into a visual magazine with a barrage of stories.