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Wes Anderson's 'The French Dispatch' is his greatest film thus far

Wes Anderson's anthology film "The French Dispatch" is a stunning display of love, comedy and Anderson's skill behind the camera. – Photo by The French Dispatch / Twitter

If you've ever heard of Wes Anderson, it's most likely for his distinct style in both filmmaking and storytelling. Near-constant symmetrical cinematography, impressively stacked celebrity castings, quick-witted dialogue and delicately built set designs are among the most abundant characteristics of Anderson's filmography, and "The French Dispatch" is no exception to these rules.

Yet, the film still stands out as a jarringly unique film by Anderson. Unlike Anderson's previous films, "The French Dispatch" doesn't have an overarching narrative. And while Anderson has a tendency to make more episodic stories with inter-titles, his newest film opts for a more vignette narrative. 

There are a total of four vignettes with a prologue and epilogue in the story, each of them individually written by a different journalist for "The French Dispatch," both the film's namesake and an American-born newspaper situated in Ennui, France (which is not a real town but rather the word for "boredom" in French).

After the editor dies of a heart attack, the journalists postpone the farewell publication which contained three articles from past editions, as well as an obituary for the editor.

In many ways, "The French Dispatch" is a parody of "The New Yorker" — even the cover art for each article imitates the art style of the famous magazine. And while the comedy in this film will not have you rolling on the floor laughing, there are plenty of moments that will elicit a chuckle.

While there is plenty of levity, I found that the film was more notably dramatic and somewhat melancholic. Without spoiling anything, a number of these stories have some very dark moments, and the film isn't afraid to slow down and let the mood sink in. The film is more interested in exploring complex ideas and scenarios, rather than building wacky and absurd ones.

While there is plenty of goofy shenanigans in the film, I would say about 60 to 70 percent of it is serious, and the 40 to 30 percent is typical Anderson-style absurdity. Despite satirizing the world, the film understands the historical context in post-World War II France and treats it with maturity, and the vignette structure aids in exploring the complex themes and ideas the film tackles without meandering from plot A to plot B.

Another commendable quality of the film is the extensive usage of black and white cameras. About half, if not the majority of the film is shot in black and white, and the cameras used for the sequences seem old-fashioned, containing artifacts such as a visible aperture in the corner of the shots and glowing of lights that have yet to enter the scene.

The black and white sequences also have a good implementation of shadows and light, creating more vivid and sharper imagery despite containing no colors. The film also does a stellar job at showing how black-and-white film can be just as beautiful as color film.

Robert Yeoman should be nominated for an Oscar because there is a myriad of beautifully constructed shots. I would be remiss to forget about the set design as well, especially since it works in conjunction with the cinematography.

In this day and age where many studios are opting to put actors into massive sound stages or sophisticated green screen rooms, "The French Dispatch" reminds us that hand-made sets will always look more visually impressive.

While there is some CGI used, it is subtle and practical effects are still predominant. There are multiple moments where the action freezes in time, and the camera slowly pans over the pandemonium.

It becomes evident the characters are not truly frozen and are just merely standing still. Puffs of smoke and champagne fizz are now puffs of cotton. Even though the trickery is obvious, the practicality still is something I would always prefer over big, flashy CGI effects.

Visual effects aside, the cast is, to put it simply, very good. My personal favorite performances in this film are Frances McDormand, Benicio Del Toro, Jeffrey Wright, Adrien Brody and Stephen Park.

The only performance that didn't resonate with me was Timothée Chalamet, which unfortunately made the third vignette my least favorite episode in the film. That being said, it is by no means a bad performance. Other performances in that chapter outweighed my general indifference to Chalamet, which does speak volumes of the consistently high quality of this film.

I became emotionally invested in most of the characters largely thanks to the performances. These are all very skilled actors, and the film adequately shines a light on all of them.

Wes Anderson’s latest film is a triumph in nearly every regard and stands as one of his greatest films so far. With the witty yet heartfelt narrative, superb casting and gorgeous visuals, there's so much to like about “The French Dispatch."

Even if you don’t consider yourself an Anderson fan, or even dislike his idiosyncratic filmmaking, I guarantee you will find something to admire about the film. His signature filmmaking style strengthens “The French Dispatch” in unexpected ways to create one of this year’s finest films.

Now that it’s currently being shown in more theaters than ever, I highly recommend not sleeping on this film!


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