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This week for “Close-Up with Camenker”,  Zach reviews . . . THE FRENCH DISPATCH! (November 19, 2021)

Click here for the blurb and showtimes of THE FRENCH DISPATCH!

Acclaimed director Wes Anderson’s latest attempt at hiring an all-star cast, presenting a quirky story with eccentric colors and patterns, and weaving storylines that would otherwise make little to no sense together is another strong piece of art for modern cinema. With THE FRENCH DISPATCH, currently screening at Red River, Anderson again shows audiences why he is to be admired and exactly how special his unique style is.

This time, Anderson’s story revolves around the legacy of an American editor’s French magazine and the wide array of stories that have been chronicled through the mid 20th century. From the start, you know you are in for a treat with both the cast and the dialogue. Taking place in a fictional town called Ennui-sur-Blase, aptly named to recognize the mundane happenings of the community, the magazine’s editor (played by frequent Anderson collaborator Bill Murray) tries to highlight stories that actually make readers excited, all the while showing that Ennui actually has a lot going for it. It’s hard as an audience member not to get excited by these stories, which weave together cultural, political, and artistic situations of intrigue.

The film itself centers on three distinctly separate stories, all of which are unique and fun in their own way. Admittedly, I felt that the second and third got progressively weaker from what I felt was a particularly superb first, though neither of them wane significantly as some films of this vignette style do. 

The first vignette, entitled “The Concrete Masterpiece,” centers around an incarcerated artist serving his prison sentence in an Ennui prison. The artist, Moses Rosenthaler, is played by Benicio del Toro, who brings the perfect balance to this talented character. In highlighting Rosenthaler’s past and his dealings with an art dealer played by Adrien Brody, Anderson creates a nice contrast in real time as actress Tilda Swinton, who plays the writer completing this story for the magazine, presents on Rosenthaler. The past is filmed in gorgeous black-and-white while the present shines in bright tones, with what appears to be a particular emphasis on orange, to juxtapose the two different eccentricities. Supported by a great team of fellow performers, including Léa Seydoux, Lois Smith, and Henry Winkler, this first story is a huge treat.

“Revisions to a Manifesto” is the second vignette, which chronicles a student protest that arises in Ennui. The reporter this time is Lucinda Krementz, played by Frances McDormand, another frequent Anderson collaborator who never seems to stop enjoying her work. As she reports on the events of this uprising, she comes across a young student leader named Zeffirelli, played by none other than the equally busy Timothée Chalamet, who delivers another strong performance that shows his impressive range. Admittedly, I felt that this story lacked the substance of the first one after its climax, but it was still incredibly enjoyable because of the cast and the continued juxtaposition. Christoph Waltz’s appearance didn’t hurt either.

The French Dispatch,” Reviewed: Wes Anderson's Most Freewheeling Film | The New YorkerFinally, there is “The Private Dining Room of the Police Commissioner,” which tells the story of food journalist Roebuck Wright (played by another great character actor, Jeffrey Wright) and his private dinner with the Ennui Police Commissioner. Interrupted by chaos and kidnapping, Wright’s dinner does not go accordingly and everything that you’d expect in a detective style farce comes to fruition. What’s amusing about this one is how little the focus becomes on food, Wright’s expertise, and how much it revolves around other external forces. This is definitely intentional and while it is fun to watch in part due to the continued artistry of Anderson and line-up of all star talent, it falls flat at several places in an attempt to do too much.

Overall, the three stories are entertaining and fun, providing strength in their ensembles, dialogue, and aesthetic. The screenplay has the same lack of cohesion as other Anderson works and that’s the whole point. Anderson truly surrounds himself with some of the best in the business, evident from Alexandre Desplat’s score and Milena Canonero’s costuming, among others. I would expect much recognition for his team of artists as the awards docket approaches this winter, though I am not sure the film itself will shine in the same way that THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL, which I honestly liked less than THE FRENCH DISPATCH, did.

I hope you support Red River in their attempt to show the very best in independent cinema, especially as the end of year brings so many exciting titles to the screen!


Stay tuned for Volume XXII of “Close-Up with Camenker,” which will return on Friday, December 3.


Click here to learn more about Zach Camenker!

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