By Lily Meek
5th December 2021

'The French Dispatch' has been the talk of the town, and one of the most anticipated films since the announcement of its star-studded cast.

I mean... just take a look at some of the main players.

Benicio del Toro, Adrien Brody, Tilda Swinton, Léa Seydoux, Frances McDormand, Timothée Chalamet, Saorise Ronan, Lyna Khoudri, Jeffrey Wright, Edward Norton, Willem Dafoe, Henry Winkler, Liev Schreiber, Mathieu Amalric, Elisabeth Moss, Stephen Park, Bill Murray, and Owen Wilson.


But while this film boasted such a great line-up, with the picturesque location of Angoulême, France as the backdrop and mise en scène to rival 'The Grand Budapest Hotel', it just wasn't my cup of tea. Tickets for the film were selling like hot cakes for the closing night of the Sydney Film Festival at the State Theatre, so it's about more than just heading to the cinema. And maybe that's my fault, our fault? COVID-19 isolation has finished, and for the first time, we're attending a big event for a new release film. It's exciting, we're talking it up - maybe we should catch dinner and some drinks before the big event? There's chat around the table of our favourite Wes Anderson films - some major props and praise for the director who goes crazy with colour, structure, production design and corduroy suits. But then halfway through the movie, I found myself thinking - "seriously, what the fuck is going on?"


The film is ultimately broken down into vignettes to define and explain the newspaper of The French Dispatch as it prints its last ever publication, taking you through the different articles and their purpose for the paper. Each writer provides a journey of culture by following their particular section or column.

When directors get to a certain point in their career, there's no cutting corners anymore. They get to make their love child with exactly how much money they want, with who they want, where they want, and the creative problem-solving part of filmmaking goes out of the window. Watching 'The French Dispatch' feels like Anderson got everything that he wanted, and in return presented audiences with a doused anthology featuring everyone in Hollywood playing characters writing a pseudo-intellectual newspaper that didn't really make much sense... but looked bougie because it was in black and white (sometimes) with a fun ratio. It was as Anderson as Anderson could go, with the audience far removed... which some people would praise the film for. I can understand that the art of Wes comes at a point where his careful craftsmanship curates comedy through his coordination of the different departments of the crew. I'd go so far as to say through all his films are components of "so much going on" that all we can do is sit back, embrace the experience of not being spoonfed, and find amusement in the art and absurdity laid out before us. This same charm is extended to 'The French Dispatch'. Yes - we are offered moments to laugh out loud, and there are some plots more simple to understand than others. However, in honesty, this is more about finding entertainment in the exhibition of short stories, where we aren't expected to know exactly what's up, but observe it and hopefully find enjoyment anyhow. This is not a participatory experience; instead, it's like turning up to a modern art gallery and deriving meaning... just appreciate the painting, for God's sake.

You're meant to be focusing on narrative, but before you know it, your head goes on a treasure hunt to find and notice all the actors, keep track of what else they've been in, and figure out who's who, rather than focusing on the story itself.

While it's fun for films to have an all-star cast, I also found this to be a contributor to the confusion of the story. You're meant to be focusing on narrative, but before you know it, your head goes on a treasure hunt to find and notice all the actors, keep track of what else they've been in, and figure out who's who, rather than focusing on the story itself. One thing I did love was Anderson's use of handheld camera, a very new realm that added greatly to the storytelling and was generally very refreshing.

Bamboozled by all these stories, characters, and the urgency to know what the bigger picture of this all is, I can only conclude that this is perhaps how we are meant to feel. The film is fast-paced, leaving hardly any time for thinking room before tracking down the next story. Perhaps this is Anderson's love letter to The New Yorker and his own style, exploring the mediums of literature and film at the expense of the audience's ego. It might be possible that this film is a little too cultured for the likes of me, and Anderson's own artistic and intellectual outpouring left me behind as I took in the pretty pictures. Yet walking out of the cinema, the chatter was much the same, that Wes Anderson made this one a little too highbrow. And while I appreciate the beauty and rapid nature of 'The French Dispatch', morale was a little low upon departure for being made a fool of by not knowing what was happening in the last 90 minutes you dedicated your life to. Thus, I leave the enjoyment of this Wes movie to the "Art Hoes", who will have much to praise it for.

Looking for more Sydney Film Festival reviews? Click here to check out our collection of this year's highlights.
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