Wes Anderson’s latest film, The French Dispatch, makes an argument for the continued relevancy of short films. The story is told as a series of vignettes that visualize four articles in a tribute issue of the French Dispatch, an American publication based in France, following the death of editor Arthur Howitzer Jr. (Bill Murray).
Based on a story Anderson developed with Roman Coppola, Hugo Guinness, and Jason Schwartzman, the film is a love letter to journalists and the written word. Indeed, it plays like an issue of the New Yorker and mixes stop-motion animation with live-action quirkiness. The usual suspects, of course, have reappeared, with performances by Tilda Swinton, Benicio Del Toro, Adrien Brody, and Frances McDormand.
The most successful of the vignettes is the article ‘The Concerte Masterpiece.’ Benicio Del Toro plays Moses Rosenthaler, a tortured, mentally disturbed artist sentenced to a prison where he abstractly paints a guard, Simone (Lea Seydoux), in secret. When Julien Cadazio (Adrien Brody), an incarcerated art dealer, witnesses a piece from the artists, he endeavors to make the Rosenthaler an enormous success. Anderson plays with tone and color constantly, shifting between black and white imagery before threading color back into the wonder of the art pieces. A final prison riot captured in slow motion is genuinely remarkable.
The film loses steam in its middle section titled ‘Revisions of a Manifesto’ but triumphantly returns at the end of Jeffrey Wright’s starring short about his dinner with The Commissaire of the Ennui police force. As Arthur Howitzer Jr. tells Wright’s Roebuck Wright, the best part of the story is the intimate details. What’s personal and profound is often the punchline.. and a distinct flavor.
As standalone shorts, Anderson makes the case that short films are just as captivating as feature-length. Each vignette feels independent and distinctive. Yet together, a thread linking the journalists, their editor, and this unique publication might’ve garnered more emotion by its conclusion.