‘The French Dispatch’ review: Remember the magazines?
It’s not really possible to spoil any of the major episodes, but it’s foolish to even try to summarize them. The artist is as vast and odd as the list of names in the New Yorker holiday “Greetings, Friends” poem:
Matthew Amalric! Edward Norton!
Elisabeth Moss and Jason Schwartzman!
Adrien Brody, Lena Khoudri,
Owen Wilson, even Fonzie!
And so on. The change in tone from melancholy to antique is an Anderson signature, which can range in color from black and white, from live action to animation, and from the ’30s or ’40s to the ’60s. ’70s.
After an introduction (with voice-over from Angelica Huston) and a prose-verse tour of Ennui (conducted by Wilson on Bicycle), a segment of what we real New Yorkers like to call “long fact” pieces. I settle in. Each feature is, in fact, a double portrait: of the author working on the story and of a charismatic, elusive central character, set against a busy backdrop of mayhem and intrigue. Roebuck Wright is paired with a campus-house chef (Stephen Park); Lucinda Krementz (McDormand) with a rebellious student (Timothie Chalamet); JKL Berensen (Swinton) with a suffering painter (Benicio del Toro). The fact that both female writers slept with their sources suggests that this love letter to journalism could benefit an editor brimming with repetition and clichés.
In any issue of any publication, some pieces will be stronger than others. “The Police Commissioner’s Private Dining Room,” Wright’s culinary crime story, is hectic and complicated with a nice, bittersweet payoff. Swinton’s offering, “Concrete Masterpiece,” with del Toro in a straitjacket and Lee Seydoux in and out of an asylum-guard uniform is, to me, the most spectacular and most moving of the chapters. McDormand’s “amend a manifesto” with the May ’68-ish student protest (and his connection to one of its leaders, played by Chalamet), struck me as the thinnest and loudest in his eccentricity, The pastiche of real-world events offered a very clever take on what makes them flattering and frivolous.
On the other hand, it reminded me of one of my favorite Goddard movies, “Masculin’ Feminine.” A certain amount of the joy you find in “The French Dispatch” may derive from your appreciation of cultural moments and artworks. Anderson conveys a fan’s enthusiasm and a collector’s greed for both canonical works and strange odds and ends, a love for old modernism that is unshakable and unsatisfying.
Which is not to be called insensitive. A sign above the door of the howitzer’s office says “No Crying” and while some tears are shed onscreen, the stories themselves leave viewers’ eyes dry. But there is definitely something beautiful in this dream of a bygone world. The French Dispatch existed for 50 years, closing in 1975, and “The French Dispatch” records the loss of a particular set of values that blossomed in that era and has since fallen on hard times.
The madman’s work painted on the walls of Ennui’s asylum in “Concrete Masterpiece” eventually finds a home in a Kansas museum “10 miles from the geographic center of the United States”, thanks to a prairie dodger’s good taste and business acumen. (Lois Smith) This is not a joke. He, Howitzer and the various misfits encountered in Ennui represent the ideal of down-to-earth American cosmopolitanism, an approach to writing, culture and the world that is at once democratic and sophisticated, animated by curiosity and full of irony. Is. The film is a love letter to that soul, and also a ghost story.
Rated R. Sex, murder, cigarettes. Running time: 1 hour 48 minutes. in Theaters.
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