In my year-long preparation for Wes Anderson’s many times delayed film The French Dispatch, I attempted to tackle the hefty list of 32 films that Anderson recommended prior to viewing the film. As a diehard fan of Anderson (and someone who is always down for a challenge), I skimmed the list and decided to try watching as many as I could before the wide release on October 29. As the release date looms near, I am so far only 7 films into completing the list. However, I couldn’t help but notice, even in my limited exploration, that despite the following blurb from Searchlight Pictures,
“The French Dispatch’ pays homage and owes a debt to a rich, diverse cinematic history. Here are some of the films that provided inspiration to the filmmakers, cast, and crew, in no particular order,"
the films don’t seem to be as diverse as one might think. Furthermore, what really piqued my curiosity in the relationship between The French Dispatch and this filmmaking era was my recognition of Chantal Goya’s song “Tu m’as trop menti” in The French Dispatch’s latest trailer, which is the same song featured in Jean-Luc Godard’s Masculin Féminin (1966).
Throughout Masculin Féminin, Paul (Jean-Pierre Léaud) is seen conversing with friends and strangers about topics of existentialism and the growing commercialism of society. The medium close-up shot of Paul being asked what is the center of the world in his view--
--bears a striking resemblance to the glimpse of Timothée Chalamet (who plays French student activist Zeffirelli) in the bathtub in the Dispatch trailer.
Not only are both Léaud and Chalamet depicting revolutionaries in their respective roles, but they also represent a tone of vindictiveness that inspires their peers around them to question the state of their morals and the societies that they live in.
In Godard’s other film La Chinoise (1967), in which Léaud reprises his role as the chief French student activist, the characters are depicted as sympathetic to the values of Mao Zedong. These sentiments do not only resemble the criticisms seen in Masculin Féminin, but it also appears that the politically conspiring forces could be what inspire the journalistic elements and homages in The French Dispatch.
The French Dispatch, like many of Anderson’s other films, is littered with eccentric metaphors, which can be alluded back to the avante-garde nature of La Chinoise. The outré radicalism is most well exemplified in its iconic scene of Yvonne (Juliet Berto) unfolding a gun behind stacks of Zedong’s Little Red Books.
Prior to encountering the list, I had already seen Godard’s earlier renowned film Vivre Sa Vie (1962). The film breaks away slightly from the critical anti-capitalist themes in Masculin Féminin and La Chinoise. However, it does administer some degree of analysis on commercialism and the patriarchy, as the film centers around Nana (Anna Karina), a wife and mother who abandons her family to become an actress in Paris only to instead become a sex worker.
Nana’s role as an idealistic aspiring actress and her eventual descent into the depths of prostitution in Paris seems to resemble Léa Seydoux’s role as Simone, a prison warden who then becomes an artist’s model, which may or may not foreshadow what will happen to Seydoux’s character in the film.
The Godard influences on Anderson's newest release are clear, and much more can be said about the 20-something other films from the French New Wave that also played a part in the film's construction. But I'll save the extended analysis for another time and recommend going about the list of 32 films on your own time for a potentially more satisfying understanding of The French Dispatch. And if you don’t have time for all 32, there are always these 5 films that Anderson had all his actors watch prior to filming.
The French Dispatch is set to be released in limited theaters on October 22 and everywhere else on October 29.