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'The French Dispatch:' Une Collaboration en Exclusivité

Updated: Dec 9, 2021

The Front Page

By Lydia Smith

The French Dispatch is a billet-doux to both the art of the story and artistic expression at its most basic and fundamental. It’s a love of words and their emotive capabilities that allows the writers depicted in the film to run with the topic of their choosing, hone in on its critical components, and devise the syntactical setup that makes the final product worth reading. The Buffed Film Buffs find The French Dispatch to be particularly on-brand for both their aesthetic and their values, the latter most easily summarized by a fascination with humanity. It’s the kind of joie de vivre that only certain storytellers, with an explicit fondness for journalism as a truth-based art, can bring to life. Today, four writers, as inspired by the anthological nature of the aforementioned film, will touch on the noteworthiness of each segment’s technique and compassion, bringing with them their own analytical style, in an effort to articulate its “je ne sais quoi.” Without further ado, I present to you: the writers.

The Sidling Reporter //The Cycling Reporter

By Jocelyn Dzuong

At the start of the film, we watch as Herbsaint Sazerac takes us on a ride through the seemingly mundane town of Ennui, France. Here, the perspective shifts between the front of Sazerac as he’s riding on a bike, and the perspective of the audience, as we observe and glide through the neighborhoods and corners of Ennui, which is on display like a museum. This particular segment carries on the whimsical nature of Anderson’s signature style as Sazerac provides a tour of the town.

What’s also unaddressed here but should be noted is the meaning of Ennui. Ennui, for reference, is French for boredom and/or listlessness out of a lack of excitement. The listlessness here is shown by how Sazerac shows us side-by-side comparisons of well-known places from the past to the present, and how not much has changed. However, in the film, there exists an antithesis to the connotation of the term. From Rosenthaler’s world-famous paintings in "The Concrete Masterpiece," to Zefirelli leading the revolution in "Revisions to a Manifesto," we see the main characters in their respective stories react out of a sense of boredom and uninspired listlessness. Yet, their reactions are in no way ordinary or mundane. The contrast between the connotations of the term ennui and the actual events in the film provides a stark yet amusing contrast that adds to the absurd nature of how Anderson handles the anthology stories in The French Dispatch.

The Commie Maestro Speaks //The Concrete Masterpiece

By Raghav Raj

The grace with which Simone poses is immaculate. Upon the first moment we see her, she’s standing exposed, nude, on a small platform. Her lithe body has been contorted into a svelte, streamlined arrangement of limbs. Her right arm softly cradles her head. Her left arm is fastened gently to her side. Her eyes say nothing, not for lack of something to say, but for how solely fixated they remain on the man behind the canvas in front of her. Her gaze isn’t sharp — one might even call it gentle — but it feels like it could pierce the screen.

Emerging from behind the canvas, frock stained with splatters and smears of paint, Moses returns her gaze. His eyes have narrowed with age. When he was younger, clean-shaven with frizzled curls of hair, those eyes seemed to glow, wide as saucers, coursing with maddened, violent energy. His snarl still remains, but his spirit is older, his soul is worn. And though the mouthwash he swigs has deadened his nerves, the vitality still springs forth in every brushstroke. His desire is boundless, but his work is unfinished; he must get closer. A touch of paint, brushed upon her hip. Smudged by his thumb, feeling the pigment sink into her supple skin. He goes to begin his work anew, but she slaps his brush away. He’s far too close. And besides, his painting is already complete.

The world — in “The Concrete Masterpiece,” at least — seems to rearrange itself around this work: “Simone, Naked, Cell Block-J Hobby Room.” Around Moses Rosenthaler (Benicio Del Toro), whose homicidal tendencies are overshadowed by the vulnerability, the scope, and the brilliance of his magnificent, abstract works of art. And around his muse Simone (Lea Seydoux), the brusquely supportive guard at the Ennui prison whose walls enclose Moses from a world that clamors for him.

Funnily enough, it’s one of those walls that gives the first movement of Wes Anderson’s French Dispatch its name. “The Concrete Masterpiece,” a fresco of 12 paintings into the reinforced concrete wall of the Ennui prison, is a titanic work, both literally and metaphorically. In the story, it’s an artistic triumph of the highest order, the impetus for a lecture from art historian J.K.L. Berenson (Tilda Swinton), the cause of a brief rift between Rosenthaler and his benefactor (Adrien Brody), and the indication of Simone’s work as a guard coming to an end.

Beyond that, it’s an apt metaphor for what exactly The French Dispatch does, especially when cast in relief of the vast, magnificent body of Wes Anderson’s work. Like the fresco, this film is an immense, triumphant work by an auteur of the highest order. The scope with which both works carry themselves is titanic; they could seemingly stretch to eternity if you didn’t just stand still and stare at whatever’s sitting in front of you. “The Concrete Masterpiece” is just one of many brilliant stretches that populate The French Dispatch, but it’s the one that I’m content with staring at for the longest, the one that really locks me in with its vast gaze toward beyondness.

Revisions by a Manic Flambeau //Revisions to a Manifesto

By Ethan Jobalia

First, there is silence. A chess piece moves, commotion follows. Then silence cascades again. A word or two is whispered into the breeze. For Zeffirelli, the world plays in absolutes. Love and hate combine into emotion, life and death are just acts of a play, and the universe is rendered in the black and white of a chessboard. For the rest of us, life is not so simple.

The story of “Revisions to a Manifesto” is a love triangle, but more than that, it is a love triangle of the Freudian mind. In the Bohemian world that “Revisions to a Manifesto” occupies, people live a fast-paced existence of hedonic intellectualism. Eating, sleeping, and any other “necessities” fall to the wayside in favor of discourse, politics, and thought. Nowhere is this characterization of the superego better exemplified than through the quintessential Bohemian, Zeffirelli. Never taking the time to eat, sleep, or slow down, he lives a breakneck life and dies young. His manifesto consumes him and through it he espouses what to him are high morals and thoughts beyond anything his peers could comprehend: the right to visit the girl’s dormitory.

To balance this, however, is Juliette. Juliette is the Id. She has thoughts herself, but her role in the movie is one of emotion. We never see her through the lens of her own work, only through her anger at Zeffirelli. Throughout the whole story, she is played off Zeffirelli as his antithesis, and by the end, she becomes a symbol of sex and desire.

Finally, the mediator, ego. Lucinda Krementz, in theory, is an unbiased journalist. She acts as a go-between for Zeffirelli and Juliette and is ultimately the one who connects the two. While she begins courting the Superego, Zeffirelli, she ends as a third-party observer to his romance with the Id.

Wes Anderson is known for many things, but above all, he is known for contrast. In Anderson’s Bohemian world, the superego rules the day and the id rules the night. The ego simply watches from the sidelines. There is no greater contrast than the one which can be found inside ourselves. Through thought and desire and sexuality Zefirelli and Juliette dance out a fantasy world of absolutes. Et pour ma délivrance, je pourrai croire en toi. Another chess piece moves, the king falls, and silence remains.

The Private Writing Room of the Florida Man //The Private Dining Room of the Police Commissioner

By Chance Freytag

Each story in The French Dispatch is marked by the personal interjections of its author; their frequency, their degree of importance, and their content. These non-diegetic insertions never appeared in the publication and give spontaneous, spasming life to the carefully told tales as well as, at their best, insight into the lives of the writers themselves. The first segment breaks its rigid, formal structure almost by accident, with flashes of Berensen’s personal (often carnal) life. Segment two: Krementz inserts herself not as a spectator but as a participant, making the diegetic indistinguishable from the non-diegetic. After boinking the protagonist of one’s piece, separating the observer from the observed is less than an afterthought, it’s sacrilege. In the third segment, however, the interjections take on a distinctly purposeful, if somewhat reluctant, tone.

Like James Baldwin who inspired him, Roebuck Wright (Jeffrey Wright, a great actor in what I truly believe is his greatest performance yet) is a meticulous writer. Taken to a typically cartoonish Andersonian extreme, this trait manifests as Wright’s “typographic memory,” which means he can remember everything he’s ever written, word-for-word. As he recounts the kidnapping and its absurd players (the chef of supernatural skill, the rogue gallery of caricatured criminal types, etc.), the immaculately detailed illusory world he creates is broken three times, each marked explicitly. Wright’s interjections are not offhand comments or outright participation, but vignettes of himself. Not vulnerable in shocking bursts like Berensen or as open and forthright as Krementz, Wright’s vulnerability is part of his cultivated being. He expresses himself on his own terms, in his own time.

The fanciful aesthetic of Wes Anderson’s films keeps things at bay, whether the brutal realities of violence and politics or whirlwinds of overwhelming emotion. Of course, these are inescapable. So, in all of Anderson’s films, the uncomfortable facts peek through and, in their candy-colored surroundings, stick out distinctly. Such is the storytelling style of Wright. In the third segment, the filmmaking takes its most shocking formalist turn (the filmmaking in each segment is coded to the writer’s respective style): a fully animated chase sequence. What keeps the dangerous and violent reality at bay more than an outright rejection of any pretense of realism? With the fantastical elements at their strongest, the intimate interjections gain all the more power by contrast. The illusion Wright/Anderson creates is “mortally broken” with each segment, delivering what were, for me, the three most emotional moments of the film. (Yes, I cried. I’d’ve demanded a refund if I hadn’t.)

Declines & (Purely Metaphorical) Deaths //Declines and Deaths

By Lydia Smith

In my urgency to rally the troops and publish this article by its established deadline, I have found myself in a similar position to Arthur Howitzer Jr., whose journey to Ennui and the dispatch is nostalgically traced in his obituary. However, I am not dead. I do not plan to die anytime soon. Nonetheless, I do find this particular collaboration to be a turning point.

The French Dispatch will stand out as a defining moment in cinematic consensus; a movie that unified the Buffed Film Buffs team in a fit of fire and passion. Its many details are keen for additional analysis, and its resolution rings tonally universal. The French Dispatch is fuel for fellowship. As for received wisdom about writing, I have none greater than Howitzer’s coined advice: “just make it sound like you wrote it that way on purpose.”

Crying, on the other hand, is perfectly acceptable. In fact, it’s encouraged.

-Lydia, Jocelyn, Raghav, Ethan, & Chance


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