5 Reasons The French Dispatch is not a film
By the end of this post, I hope I will have convinced you that THE FRENCH DISPATCH is more than a film and should not only be interpreted using conventional categories often used to rate films.
I never talk about films. Mainly because I treat them as pure forms of escapism, whose content I need to escape once I have guilty finished watching them.
But The French Dispatch changed everything.
For one thing, I’m not even sure one could call it a film.
Yes, of course, formally it is a film. It is made like a film and consumed like a film, however, on a deeper level it is an extremely intertextual, hybridized work of art, whose depth extends beyond the usual format of a film.
A list of all the different types of art included and expressed within the film:
2. Fine Art
5. Culinary Arts
ONE: The most obvious way in which The French Dispatch is an indefinable piece of art disguised as a film, lies in the fact that it is structured like a newspaper. It has an intro, an art section, a politics section, and a culinary section, all divided by instances of short still shots, in which we see the title page of each chapter as if we were turning the pages of the newspaper with our eyes only. These pages shown as interludes between the chapters are displayed large enough for the viewer to read the very article that the film is about to show.
TWO: Wes Anderson further intermingles different types of art by creating the fictitious artist, Moses Rosenthaler. They had to create actual “new” pieces of art for the film and for that he specifically enlisted the artist: Sandro Kopp to paint the murals and paintings for the film. Therefore, one could argue that the film indirectly led to the creation of new contemporary art.
THREE: Just as Anderson actively includes contemporary visual arts into the film, he also includes music in a similar way. Films and music have always shared an extremely intimate relationship with one another, through the creation of soundtracks. THE FRENCH DISPATCH not only has one soundtrack but two. There’s the official soundtrack, and then there is a seemingly independent Album called Chansons d’Ennui by TIP-TOP (a fictitious singer mentioned in the film). The actual singer is Jarvis Cocker. The best part about this intertextuality is, that in the second part of the film, we actually get to see a small poster of the album cover, shortly before the 12th and the last song on the album, “Aline”, dramatically echoes through the streets of Ennui erupting from the nostalgic speakers of a jukebox. To some extent one could interpret this as a way to break the fourth wall; the reality created in the film and our reality of watching the film merge through the music. We can equally access the album created in the film from outside the boundaries between the film and the non-film world. Both realities now share this common denominator, which allows the fiction to trespass into non-fiction, all through music.
FOUR: What would a conjoinment of the different types of art be without a bit of poetry as well. Written by the rebellious character: Zeffirelli, I find the attempt at slightly cringy teenage poetry quite amusing. Someone has transcribed the poem from the film and posted it on Reddit.
FIVE: The last intertextuality to another art form relates to the culinary arts, embodied by the character of Lt. Nescaffier. He is, in my opinion, the most passionately portrayed artist in the film. He experiences an intense melancholy after nearly dying from one of his own poisoned pickled radishes because even though he almost died, what he discovered is far more valuable to him and his art than life. The first thing that he says after scantly evading death is:
“They had a flavor. The toxic salts in the radishes – they had a flavor. Something unfamiliar to me. Like a bitter, moldy, peppery, spicy, oily kind of earth. I’ve never tasted that taste in my life. Not entirely pleasant, extremely poisonous, but still, a new flavor. That’s a rare thing in my age.”
That description in itself could be seen as a kind of poetry. And it made me wonder when the last time was, I truly tasted a new flavor in my life?
By writing this little list of five reasons why THE FRENCH DISPATCH is more than just a film, I wanted to point out that it has been unjustly criticized by some, for “not fully developing” the narrative, and characters, in the way traditional storylines of films are expected to do. In response to that criticism, I wanted to show how when we change the way that we interpret the film, and instead look at it through a kaleidoscopic lens using the idea that it is much more than a film. We can see that it is also: a newspaper, a painting, a piece of music, a poem, and a sensory and culinary feast.