REVIEW: Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch

The art of fandom is to observe and infer. This is especially true in cinema as the cult of the auteur director fuels our reverence and identification with a person we likely have nothing in common with, nor can grasp the constraints they work within. Enjoying the films of Wes Anderson may be a case study in this as his work has been so unique and true to his singular aesthetic and our place in the audience so central to the evaluation of his storytelling.

Wes Anderson on set

The French Dispatch is, in many ways, a masterful summation of Anderson’s career. From his first feature (Bottle Rocket) through his more mature period (The Royal Tenenbaums, Life Aquatic), then his forays into animation (Fantastic Mr. Fox, Isle of Dogs) and most recently in sweeping history tales (The Grand Budapest Hotel); Anderson has built a worldview based on highly composed cinematography, tight dialogue, and a deep understanding of visual language. The French Dispatch is easily the most structurally designed of the bunch. Every amazing trick you have loved from previous films is on view in this film – but with more style and bravado.

The film is essentially broken into four parts, a short story about the fictional city of Ennui-sur-Blasé that sets the stage and tone. Then three stories which are, in many ways, love letters to the fine arts, literature, and gastronomy. Every scene features some visual idea, rapid cut into diagrammatic cross-sections, animations, color-coded, and scripted like a graphic novel made real. Lessons from each of Anderson’s previous films are evident, but this time the visuals support the storytelling in a way that is more integral. It is a riveting, deeply entertainingly, and surprisingly touching film that must be counted as a masterwork of the cinema – if you go for that sort of thing.

A fraction of the cast of The French Dispatch, in this case, the writers. Anderson’s exquisite casting is itself a pastiche of the cast-of-characters, many of which are of his own making.

Jason Forrest is a data visualization designer and writer living in New York City. He is the director of the Data Visualization Lab for McKinsey and Company. In addition to being on the board of directors of the Data Visualization Society, he is also the editor-in-chief of Nightingale: The Journal of the Data Visualization Society. He writes about the intersection of culture and information design and is currently working on a book about pictorial statistics.