BFI London Film Festival Review – The French Dispatch (2021)

Welcome back to the wonderful world of Wes – Anderson, that is. We’d hoped to return there last year, when The French Dispatch was scheduled to debut at Cannes, but we know what got in the way. It eventually made it the French Riviera this year and now it arrives in London, with a cinema-wide release following shortly afterwards. So was it, as we’ve been asking of so many other delayed titles, worth the wait?

We find ourselves in the small French town of Ennui sur Blasé. With a name like that, you’d think nothing would ever happen there – and you’d be entirely wrong. It’s the outpost of an American newspaper where a dedicated team of journalists  compile a monthly magazine, under the leadership of their revered Editor, Arthur Howitzer (Bill Murray), a publication packed with features delving into provincial French life. Its politics, its food, its people, its culture – they’re all there and the film is divided into the magazine’s regular feature sections, each concentrating on one particular story. Stories of student rebellion, a remarkable chef, an extraordinary artist who was a convicted criminal, all told by one of the writing team and all with their own cast of colourful characters.

It’s no surprise that just about everybody you’d expect to be in a Wes Anderson film is here. It’s the ultimate ensemble piece, with a poster that reminds you of the classic Sergeant Pepper album cover. There are times, however, when some of the smaller parts occupied by big names appear to be created just so that Wes can include them in the film. It’s full of his usual beloved details as well, to the extent that you feel you need to see the film again to appreciate all of them. But it was ever thus. And there’s also the jokes that he likes to share with the audience – for instance, one character in raptures over a remarkable chef, takes his cue from a commercial for the line “Ahhhh! Nescoffier!”

So far, so Wes. And if a large dose of his precision whimsy is what you’re after, then you won’t be disappointed. It has his trademark sparkle, wit and self-awareness, his snappy, almost rapid-fire dialogue, even though there are times when it struggles to maintain that for the entire sub-two hours. But it also comes with the niggling feeling that we’ve been here before. We love what we’re watching – nobody else makes films quite like Anderson – but perhaps it might be time for him to give us something different. It doesn’t have to be radical, nor does it have to discard all the things that give his films their unique appeal, but it does need to break out of what seems to be approaching a dangerous rut. For now, much as you’re likely to leave the cinema with a smile on your face, it’s tempered slightly with a lingering question. Where now?

★★★1/2


Comedy | Cert: 15 | London Film Festival, 10, 11, 13 and 17 | Cinemas from 22 October | Walt Disney Studios | Dir. Wes Anderson | Bill Murray, Adrien Brody, Tilda Swinton, Benicio Del Toro, Frances McDormand, Timothee Chalamet.