The French Dispatch

My Experience with Wes Anderson’s French Dispatch: A Tale of Exile, Existence and Timothée Chalamet

Je m’ennuie. Je m’ennuie terriblement. Je m’ennuie douloureusement depuis qu’on a quitté Paris. So I went to the cinema.

It was a tough decision; it was my first post-pandemic film. My first visit to the cinema, I mean. In my choice rested, almost inert, the vision I would have of the seventh art for at least a year. Back to the seats, to the unbearable and exquisite smell of the seats. All the films had the mission, that night, as tense as it was unscrupulous, to save the cinema.

It was an easy decision: The French Dispatch. Someone once told me that I looked like someone who follows Wes Anderson’s career. I get that often. It is enough to spend 10 minutes with me.

It was a tough decision: I can’t stand Timothée Chalamet. I hate his guts. The media—the same media I work for—is perhaps to blame for that, as it actively tries to serve him as my breakfast dish when all I want is my good, old protein bar.

(Dune*, I have to go see Dune. Because I liked Arrival. Speaking of which, I can’t stand Jodorowsky).

​​Earlier that day

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Earlier that day, I had turned down an invitation to eat porc au cidre et pommes. I was exhausted and it was raining. I ate alone, listening to Fatboy Slim: ricotta with walnuts and honey. It’s a filling for ravioli.

We left the apartment shortly after 3:00 p.m. I think Borges at some point explained that 3:00 in the afternoon is the worst time of day because it’s either too early or too late to do anything. He’s right.

(I say “we left” because by that time Alex had returned. No one in their right mind turns down that kind of lunch.)

I scoured several bookstores for the latest edition of The New Yorker. Someone thought I meant The New York Times. I finally found the issue right in front of the place where I had bought coffee an hour earlier. I also picked up the latest issue of Cahiers du cinéma. The cover: Quentin.

Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time

I read Tarantino’s interview at the Apple Store first and in line for the movies later (while waiting for my vaccination certificate scan).

Quentin says that he’s the same age as Jodie Foster, that he used to write at night but now writes during the day and that something is always lost in translation. In that sense, he believes that his book (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood) will be impossible to translate and that it is very different from the film. I can’t wait to rest it, exhausted, on my bedside table.

“I had never come inside before”

I don’t think Wes Anderson has children (I avoid reading factual information on the directors I follow because I fear I won’t like them anymore). He is completely oblivious to the behavior of children. Wes Anderson has probably never been a child, and that, if true, is beautiful.

Anyway, Anderson breaks his matrix and schemes, violates the conditions of his game and, predictably, wins. The French Dispatch is an ode to the exile, a requiem for locals (who welcomes and judges; who gives and who demands). The French Dispatch is the least Anderson of all Wes Anderson’s films (and yes, of course, I’m including Bottle Rocket) and yet it is the one that does it the most justice.

A more dynamic camera, the childlike animation that comes after the nudity and perfect breasts: Wes Anderson broke out of his formula (with the courage that such a task entails) and says goodbye to the director we all think we know and learned to love.

Wes has grown, and we have to let him go (for all our sakes). I commented, as if in passing, as if without meaning to, “is Wes getting sassy?” and that might very well be or not, but this Anderson has more prerogatives than the one in The Royal Tenenbaums (2001).

Elijah has always been Elijah

The Royal Tenenbaums is one of those films that marked a before and after in me, I am very fond of it.

Next to the Tenenbaums, there is Being John Malkovich (Spike Jonze, 1999). Being John Malkovich could have easily remained in the worn-out Hollywood fallacy of confusing identity with existence (one of the debates I am most passionate about, ladies and gentlemen) until, in what could only be read as the manifestation of the purest of geniuses, it goes full meta and mocks itself: Elijah has always been Elijah.

Can one exist without an identity? Can one exist through someone else’s identity? If I clone myself, do my clones exist with my sensibility or with their own? And if it is their own, are they still my clones? (This particular dilemma is partially addressed by Duncan Jones in his 2009 film Moon, which should enjoy greater recognition).

That search for identity (once we’ve taken existence for granted, which may or may not be enough) is present in The French Dispatch, albeit less explicitly. L’être et le devenir, that eternal confrontation that haunts us all, is summed up with the most tender beauty in Moses Rosenthaler, embodied to perfection by Benicio del Toro (with an imposing body that he handles with sculptural precision).

The great Timothée Chalamet struggles between rebellion, intellectualism and love as his character, Zeffirelli, tries to draw a path of his own in the rubble of the French social explosion.

In May.

In 1968.

To become or to die: such is the question common to all the conscious.

The French Dispatch is surely not a catch-all film (which film is?). Nostalgia, admiration and repudiation blend to form a cocktail of emotions whose essence is exclusive to the brave and impulsive.

Perhaps the expats feel it more than those who live in their country of birth. The alien eye, which serves as judge and jury, is not a label that one flaunts with pleasure. There is a certain shyness about it, a certain embarrassment. A certain request for permission.

Then there are the others, the privileged, the ones chosen by Anderson: the expats in France. They will probably be the only ones to read The French Dispatch for what it is: a masterpiece.

*Update: Done. Mind-f*cking-blown.

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