The trailer for Wes Anderson‘s latest comedy “The French Dispatch” has appeared online today and Twitter is abuzz, but one sentiment that seems to be universal is that everyone seems to think it looks fantastic, but no one seems to know what it’s actually about. Well, it’s elementary, really, but here’s a fun breakdown of the trailer if you watched it but didn’t actually pay much attention to the details (and yesterday’s New Yorker first look piece filled in many of the details too).
The “French Dispatch” is about the final issue of an American magazine published in a fictional 20th-century French city. It is called the Liberty Kansas Evening Sun, it’s run by American ex-pats and it’s the French Dispatch or French edition of the magazine that’s run out of the offices in the invented French town of Ennui-sur-Blasé.
It’s the final issue of the magazine because of…a spoiler that’s already been revealed in the synopsis of a French Amazon description of the screenplay that will be available for sale in May in France (we ran them and Searchlight were asked to take them down). Suffice to say there’s a catalyst event that makes the staff of the Liberty Kansas Evening Sun look back on some of their greatest stories. “The French Dispatch” has been described as a love letter to journalists and this clearly has much to do with Anderson’s affection for the New Yorker which he has devotedly read since he was a teenager.
THE FRENCH DISPATCH STAFF
The staff of the Liberty Kansas Evening Sun includes Arthur Howitzer Jr. (Bill Murray), the editor of the French Dispatch, based on Harold Ross, the co-founder of The New Yorker, J. K. L. Berensen (Tilda Swinton), a writer and a staff-member, Roebuck Wright (Jeffrey Wright), a food journalist based on an amalgamation of journalists James Baldwin and A. J. Liebling, Herbsaint Salzerac (Owen Wilson), a writer and staff member of the French Dispatch. While currently unnamed, also part of the French Dispatch staff is Elisabeth Moss, Fisher Stevens, Griffin Dunne, and in what appears to be a small role, Jason Schwartzman as Hermes Jones, who appears to be, by the looks of the trailer, a French Dispatch cover illustrator (Anderson friend Wally Wolodarsky is part of the staff too and is seen always looking down and reading something).
As we noted in today’s trailer piece, in 2015, Anderson said he wanted to make an anthology movies, but one that was made all by one director featuring many of that filmmaker’s stories within that one omnibus picture— he cited Vittorio De Sica‘s anthology picture “The Gold of Naples” (1954) as one of the influences. So, it appears he took the idea of an anthology film and his love for The New Yorker, and applied it to his new film.
So, as clearly detailed in the trailer, there are three stories in the magazine that are brought to life.
1. The Concrete Masterpiece – by J.K.L. Berensen (Tilda Swinton)
The trailer clearly states that the first story is written by J.K.L. Berensen (Tilda Swinton) and it is clearly a story about a Matisse-like artist Moses Rosenthaler (Benicio del Toro), who is an incarcerated artist and also probably a little bit nuts (“pychopathe” is written on his prison uniform). He paints a picture of Simone (Léa Seydoux), his prison guard and muse, and Julien Cadazio (Adrien Brody), an art dealer, based on Lord Duveen, an art dealer that was featured in a six-part New Yorker story, clearly will do anything to get the reluctant Rosenthaler to part with the painting (spoiler alert from the trailer: he’s not interested). This harkens back a little bit to “The Grand Budapest Hotel” and the Boy with Apple painting story. And not too coincidentally, “The French Dispatch” story is credited to Anderson, Roman Coppola, Hugo Guinness, and Jason Schwartzman—the four men credited with the story for “The Grand Budapest Hotel” which features a similar literary framing device to look at several different stories connected to a famous hotel and its infamous hotel concierge. Also within this section of the film, as the trailer demonstrates are Henry Winkler and Bob Balaban, who apparently play Brody’s business-partner uncles, and Lois Smith as another art collector. This story is told in both black and white and color photography and looks like it’s the Academy aspect ratio of “The Grand Budapest Hotel” and or a little augmented (looks less square than usual and a bit more widened). The author Berensen (Swinton) is also part of the story, so it seems like part of the essays are not only the stories themselves but the reporting on the story (probably where the color variation comes in to play).
Additional Credit: Moses Rothenthaler sounds like a name nicked from “The Rosenthaler Suite,” one of the few unproduced screenplays by Wes Anderson written for Ron Howard’s production company, based on a remake of the 2006 French film, “My Best Friend,” but also incorporates a new element of art heist into the story (and if you watch the trailer, there’s definitely a jailbreak in the short).
2. Revisions To A Manifesto – by Lucinda Krementz (Frances McDormand)
“What do they want? Freedom, full stop.” ” Revisions To A Manifesto” is clearly a story about French students who are also revolutionary French protesters—likely influenced by the notorious 1968 Paris student riots— seen in many great films over the years, but also romanticized quite heavily in Bernardo Bertolucci’s “The Dreamers.” This vignette stars Zeffirelli (Timothée Chalamet), and what appears to be his paramour and fellow student revolutionary Juliette (Lyna Khoudri). The story, written by Lucinda Krementz (Frances McDormand), also includes Krementz herself in what appears to be a very crucial role. This short story seems less involved than the others, and or, at least featuring fewer names in the cast and just the trio—at least from what we can glean from the trailer (though Mohamed Belhadjine plays a student too). It does have shots that look much more anamorphic and widescreen, however.
3. “The Private Dining Room—of the Police Commissioner” – Roebuck Wright (Jeffrey Wright)
Anderson’s definitely a foodie, and “The Private Dining Room” written by food critic Roebuck Wright (Jeffrey Wright) centers on an Asian chef who is the “exemplar of a mode of cuisine known as police cooking.” Wright obviously stars as the writer and star, modeled after the intellectual James Baldwin and New Yorker writer and war correspondent A. J. Liebling. Korean-American actor and comedian Steve Park plays the chef, Willem Dafoe, Liev Schreiber, and Ed Norton‘s voices are seen and heard in this section. Mathieu Amalric‘s son is one of the dining guests whose son has been kidnapped (by Norton with a French accent), so this section clearly has more intrigue than just a delectable gourmand tale. Also connected to this segment it seems is Saoirse Ronan as part of the kidnapper’s plot.
The main billing of the movie is Benicio del Toro, Adrien Brody, Tilda Swinton, Léa Seydoux, Frances McDormand, Timothée Chalamet, Lyna Khoudri, Jeffrey Wright, Mathieu Amalric, Stephen Park, Bill Murray, and Owen Wilson.
Also in the movie, but not seen at all within this trailer is Cécile de France, Guillaume Gallienne, Tony Revolori, Rupert Friend, Hippolyte Girardot, Anjelica Huston (though heard in the beginning), Denis Ménochet, Benjamin Lavernhe, Vincent Macaigne, Félix Moati, Kate Winslet, Christoph Waltz, and Alex Lawther. Surely, all of them will turn up in small roles or cameos within the various shorts.
But that’s it, “The French Dispatch,” three short stories within a larger magazine framework that looks back on the greatest stories of the Liberty Kansas Evening Sun cultural journal. The movie comes out July 24, via Searchlight Pictures, but we’d bet almost all the money in the world that it debuts at the Cannes Film Festival in May first.
Here’s the trailer again.