THE FRENCH EXPEDITION ★★★★
M, 108 minutes, in theaters from December 9
No need to be a fan of The New Yorker to enjoy Wes Anderson’s hotly-discussed new film, The French dispatch, but it definitely helps.
As a thank you, Anderson and his producers have carefully provided a crib sheet listing the profiles of his characters and the New Yorker writers and editors who inspired them.
That doesn’t mean you’re in for a quick comedy about intra-office politics resonating with witty banter and gleefully one-upmanship games. This is not the view of the Algonquin Roundtable of Manhattan Scholars that we get here.
I have often remembered Dorothy Parker’s remark that she had walked into The New Yorkerone day, but had to come home because someone was using the pencil. Anderson envisioned a publication made up of journalists who don’t have the time or inclination to commune with their colleagues. They are fully concerned with the stories they are working on. They only report to their editor, Arthur Howitzer Jr (Bill Murray). Francophile son of a Kansas newspaper editor, Howitzer founded the magazine to bring a breath of French culture to the American Midwest. But times are tough and he has to consider cutting costs. Whatever happens, however, he is determined that his beloved writers do not suffer.
The magazine is not based in Paris. Instead, we find ourselves in a French town created from Anderson’s imagination. As he was shooting the film in the southwestern town of Angoulême, chosen for its cafes, cobblestones and winding alleys, he transformed it with miniatures, digital enhancements and clever pieces of reconstruction for sound like the kind of storybook-making familiar to many of his films and he called it Boredom-on-Blasé. The overall effect of it all is a particularly freakish form of escape – as if an excessive knowledge of reality has caused a state of longing for a world that never existed.