The French Dispatch [2021] ‘BFI’ Review: A Quirky cast, stunning shots, but little else

The French Dispatch

Wes “Symmetry King” Anderson is back. After his second animated feature Isle of Dogs, the much-loved director has returned to live-action filmmaking with an ode to journalism: The French Dispatch.

Anthologies can be tricky, miffily stitching together stories from multiple directors with different creative licks may create a tonal disaster without any investment, but the format can also up an avenue for weird, and wonderful creative celebration. Unlike some anthology films, Anderson has opted to direct all these stories himself. This is his collection first and foremost.

Unfortunately, the result is a bloated, bulging compilation, and The French Dispatch is certainly the most exhausting Wes has been. For a director keen on organizing his frames in the most polished ways possible, the narrative organization of this anthology is anything but.

The French Dispatch

The initial story is easily the strongest of the set. “The Concrete Masterpiece” is a fitting title for a tale that is comprehensively charming, deranged, and hilarious in one. A murderous artist, his muse, and a devoted art collector combine in an amusing satire of art culture. Benicio Del Toro and Lea Seydoux are fabulous, but I found myself particularly endearing of Adrien Brody’s art collector character, and Del Toro and Brody also get the chance to play around with some whip-sharp banter. A highlight for sure.

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The next two stories, “Revisions to a Manifesto” and “The Private Dining Room” bring the entire flick to a grinding slog. There are moments of amusement to be found in between the chaos, such as a bright and beautiful animated sequence towards the end of the film. However, whatever whimsy is thrown our way can’t negate the lagging emotional stakes amongst the two tales. We aren’t given pause to reminisce on what we’ve seen and are readily rushed along to the next busy frame of information. Anderson’s style has always had a quaint and quiet, wholesome feel to it.

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The building blocks, at least formally, are there for the same sort of motion picture but his anthology format seems to scurry along the quaintness to the point of dearest confusion and tired attention spans. Once again, I also feel grimly bemused by Anderson’s inclusion of sexual relationship with a distinct age gap. Bizarre.

A star-studded cast cannot quite cut it for The French Dispatch, perhaps a treat for those well-informed with the world of journalistic integrity, but for those expecting another cozy masterpiece will be left with furrowed brows and weary glares.

The French Dispatch screened at BFI London

Freddie Kay

British film fan with a reviewing hobby and a passion for the horror genre. Regular attender of London Film Festival and first time attendee at Cannes in 2019. Studied film at A Level and have made a few amateur shorts.