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Laramie Movie Scope:
The French Dispatch

In the town of Ennui, life isn't boring, or rosy

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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November 16, 2021 – Wes Anderson's artistic vision is unique. Appreciating Anderson's films is also an acquired taste. Aside from “Moonrise Kingdom” and a couple of his other films, I haven't really acquired a taste for his films, but I think they are worth watching.

I went to see this with a friend of mine who declared it a waste of time, but then he slept through some of it and he is not a journalist. This film has been described as a love letter to journalists. As a journalist, I really could not hate it. This episodic movie has four distinct chapters, each tied together by reporters who all work for the same newspaper, “The French Dispatch of the Liberty, Kansas Evening Sun.”

If this movie, is, indeed, a love letter to journalists, it is a tragic one, because the story takes place on the day reporters are writing stories for the very last issue of the newspaper. After this issue, the press is to be demolished, the staff let go and all other newspaper property sold. The movie is centered around the obituary of the newspaper itself, and its owner (played by Bill Murray).

I became a newspaper reporter in the 1970s and worked as one, off and on, until the year 2000. When I first started out, I thought it was a career that would last me for life, but by the end of the 20th century, it was clear that daily newspapers were an endangered species. Today, most of them that survive, particularly in small cities and towns, are emaciated remnants of what they once were, with minimal reporting staffs and most other functions handled by remote call centers. All of their valuable property assets are being sold off by their vulture equity owners.

The movie's first chapter is The Cycling Reporter (played by Owen Wilson) who takes us on a tour of the French town of Ennui (ennui means boredom in French, but “the English word annoy comes from an early, 13th century borrowing of the word,” and it has also come to have “connotations of self-indulgent posturing and European decadence” according to an online article by Arika Okrent). The film has the appearance of pandemic ennui, but filming was completed in March, 2019, prior to the Covid Pandemic spreading around the world.

The Cycling Reporter takes us beyond Ennui's idyllic exterior to the seedy underbelly of the city, to the hookers along the river and the desperate-looking men in “Pickpocket Alley.” The Cycling Reporter is chased by rowdy youths and keeps falling out of sight into deep holes.

The second chapter is The Concrete Masterpiece, which is a meditation on the nature of art, the creative process and the corrupting influence of art commercialism. If this, the most passionate episode in the film, is a reflection of Anderson's feelings about his own art becoming an over-commercialized burden, then that is a direct contradiction to the critical argument that this film is Anderson's joyous expression of himself.

This chapter features full frontal nudity of the French actress Léa Seydoux (“Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol”) who plays Simone, a prison guard/artist's model/dominatrix who is in love with an artistic murderer, Moses Rosenthaler (played by Benicio Del Toro of “Sicario: Day of the Soldado”). Rosenthaler is tired of his sad prison existence (existential ennui?) and wants to kill himself, but is forced to continue painting by Simone, and art dealers, because his paintings are extremely valuable.

The third chapter, Revisions to a Manifesto, is a meditation of “journalistic neutrality” as imperfectly practiced by reporter Lucinda Krementz (played by Frances McDormand of “Nomadland”). Krementz is reporting on a student revolution in Ennui, being led by Zeffirelli (Timothée Chalamet of “Dune”) and his girlfriend, Juliette (probably a reference to film director Franco Zeffirelli and his most famous movie character, Juliette, played by Olivia Hussey in his 1968 movie, “Romeo and Juliette”).

Krementz keeps getting personally involved in the story she is covering, which is a kind of absurdest dark comedy in which the two opposing sides of this revolution are settling their differences via a game of chess. Krementz rewrites Zeffirelli's manifesto, sleeps with him and urges Zeffirelli and Juliette (played by Lyna Khoudri) to have sex. The idea here seems to be to make love, not war. In this story the student revolution appears to be utterly futile and Zeffirelli is as doomed as Romeo was.

The fourth, and final chapter is The Private Dining Room of the Police Commissioner. It is about an organized crime plot to silence a prisoner, underworld accountant Albert the Abacus (Willem Dafoe of “The Lighthouse”). As part of a plot to get their hands on Albert, who is in police custody, crooks kidnap the Ennui Police Commissaire's son.

This part of the story involves a car chase, as well as a heretical French police plot to kill crooks using haute cuisine. That seems antithetical to French culture. This story is more like the American notion of winning by any means.

This film employs an unusual mix of stage sets, animation, still photo-like poses and more conventional live action scenes. The color palette varies widely from color to pure black and white. The combination of these features are emblematic of Wes Anderson's unmistakable style — reason enough to see this film. Another reason to see it is the amount of talent on the screen. Anderson is able to attract a whole army of award-winning actors, even for minor roles.

Anderson shows me a lot of imagination in this movie. The trouble with it is the same trouble that afflicts other episodic movies — the four chapters don't really fit together to make a whole. It is like a jigsaw puzzle with some pieces missing. It is also a comedy that lacks a truly funny character. There are situations that are sort of funny, and I did laugh a few times, but the comedy is blunted, like a comedy duo consisting of two straight men. The movie isn't really sad, either. It is ambivalent. This film rates a C.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff (no extra charges apply). I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2021 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)

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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at dalek three zero one nine at gmail dot com [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]