Long in the making and highly anticipated, Wes Anderson’s latest film opened in competition in Cannes. If you were wondering what kept him so long, Anderson could be excused for his tardiness due to the incredible intricacy of every shot of his film. Unfortunately, The French Dispatch is not entirely worth the wait and while it is full to the hilt with stuff – so much stuff! – it sorely lacks any real substance.
The troupe of actors is a rogues’ gallery of Anderson stalwarts, with the likes of Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman, Tilda Swinton, Adrien Brody and Owen Wilson putting in an appearance. These are just a handful of the stars gracing this intricate constellation, yet almost all of them are asked to do very little: when you have actors of the calibre of Elisabeth Moss, Christoph Waltz or Edward Norton, it would be nice to give them something to actually do.
One of the issues with the story is that there is no real story, or at least there are lots of semi-related vignettes. The premise is that an American (Murray) went to Ennui, France and ran the French dispatch of his Oklahoma newspaper, remaining there for many years and establishing his magazine as an internationally renowned publication on the lines of the New Yorker (with Anderson dedicating his film to many of that esteemed publication’s writers). However, if you are going to make a film based on a mag full of in-depth, focussed and lengthy articles, famous for its punctilious fact-checking and grammar, why serve up a film made up of random and silly stories that lack any depth or focus?
Perhaps it’s because Anderson’s real focus is on the visuals, creating elaborate sets positively teeming with detail that are delight to the eye. Again, there is an issue here, for there is just too much to take in and some of these magnificent scenes last mere seconds before the viewer can take in even a small percentage of the details. However, this attention to the minutest of details – a button, a label on a jacket, a plate of food – is truly the principal pleasure of the film. It is a film that would warrant multiple viewings just to absorb those fleeting, marvellous images.
I love quite a few of Wes Anderson’s films and quite like a lot of his others. If you are a fan of his work, you are unlikely to be disappointed. It is a film full of charm (honourable mention going out to Jeffrey Wright, Benicio del Toro and Léa Seydoux) and is inventively brilliant in terms of its set and costume design, the latter thanks to Anderson’s regular collaborator Milena Canonero. But I was expecting something more from this gifted director: more maturity, more depth, more interesting storytelling. For all its meticulous attention to detail, this film is as flimsy and superficial as some of those façades we see in Ennui.