MEXICO CITY – The French Dispatch, director Wes Anderson’s latest film, would be best described as a story about storytelling.
An extension of an American paper in Kansas, The French Dispatch is a magazine founded by its editor, Arthur Howitzer Jr., in the mid-20th century.
As the movie begins, Howitzer [Bill Murray] suddenly dies from a heart attack. The film focuses on the last issue of the magazine, which is a compilation of past articles alongside his obituary.
The issue kicks off with a quick tour of Ennui by one of the magazine’s writers, Herbsaint Sazerac [Owen Wilson], who narrates how much and how little this town has changed.
The movie describes the personality of this little imaginary town in France called Ennui. We see this place through the writers’ stories. Writers who become part of the story deliberately break an essential rule of journalism, but if these writers had followed that rule, Ennui would have lost all of its color.
The chosen articles are perfect to introduce us to Ennui, to its people and to the times they’re living in.
Anderson’s movies emulate the experience of reading a book, or in this case a magazine, more specifically, The New Yorker.
Most of his films, for example the 2009 Fantastic Mr. Fox or The Grand Budapest Hotel from 2014, are often inspired by the works of eccentric writers. This time he is directing the story of the French Dispatch writers.
This movie is not just an anthology of these writers’ stories, it is also an anthology of Anderson’s craft.
Anderson is really careful of the string that holds his elaborate narratives.
Like Howitzer says to one of his writers, “Just make it sound like you wrote it that way on purpose.” Anderson meticulously orchestrates everything we see in the picture, so nothing is left to spare.
Every little thing that is put on the frame has a value to the story. That’s why he can tell three stories in just 103 minutes, because if it’s either consciously or subconsciously, we are constantly receiving information.
Anderson’s focus on detail makes it impossible for the film to feel fake.
This is the kind of movie that is hard to watch and even harder to explain because you don’t often understand everything, but that’s part of the fun of watching.
The film has been described multiple times as a love letter to journalism, but it is addressed to the storytellers and their work. It’s not just a love letter, it’s a tribute to France and its period.
Its ultimate lesson to us is that inspiration – whether it’s for a painting, a manifesto, a dish or an article – comes from the most peculiar people and places. It just needs passion.
Regina Lopez is a Senior Reporter with Youth Journalism International.