Elegant nostalgia does some tricks with Ennui


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After 25 years and nine films, we know what to expect from a Wes Anderson movie. It’s the cinematic equivalent of that county fair stall selling handcrafted elf figurines. It won’t blow you away with the tech or the special effects or even the dramatic gestures, but you can’t help but marvel at the finesse of the craftsmanship and the obvious care that has gone into every element of the production. , all the time feeling a strange mixture of awe, melancholy and fantasy at the fact that so much love has been devoted to something so seemingly meaningless and ultimately unimportant.

And yet, this meticulous attention to creating a small work of beauty is perhaps precisely what is needed to endow it with the ineffable but indispensable quality that we call ‘meaning’.

Frank existentialism which has been at the heart of Wes Anderson’s film project since The Royal Tenenbaums has never been more obvious than in Anderson’s last feature film, The French Dispatch. Rightly set in France, the country that most contributed to the birth of existentialism not only as a philosophical movement but as a true way of being, the film includes a series of vignettes linked to a fictitious publication. of the twentieth century known as The French dispatch, a New Yorker-type of magazine published as a Sunday supplement to a fictional Kansas newspaper called the Evening sun in Kansas. This eclectic supplement, which covers art, politics, and food, among other topics, was brought to France from Liberty, Kansas, by Arthur Howitzer Jr. (Bill Murray), where it is headquartered in the fictional French town fortunately named d’Ennui-sur-Blasé, which roughly translates to “World-Wearness on the So What? Howitzer assembled a team of Marvel superhero-level journalists and persuaded them all to take “the long journey from Liberty to Boredom” and come with him to France to work on his prestige pet project.

The film shows us what life was like to work for the Mail to Ennui through a series of episodes, starting with cycling journalist Herbsaint Sazerac (Owen Wilson), strangely happy to live in a town called Ennui, taking us on a tour of the stereotypically quaint and picturesque French town located on the banks of the river Jaded . “Like any living city,” Sazerac tells us in his humorous and puzzled manner, “Boredom sustains a menagerie of vermin and scavengers.” He deposits his copy with the Mild-mannered Howitzer, who would rather Sazerac add more flowers and fewer prostitutes to his story, but whatever – the stories have to be printed. The Shipping Show must go on.

All episodes of The French dispatch attract attention. A few, like the vignette on a 1968 style student rebellion featuring Timothée Chalamet as a student trying to write a manifesto and Frances McDormand as a reporter offering to help him while trying to maintain “neutrality”. journalistic ”, are also tired and impartial. like the name of the city itself. Likewise, the final segment of the film is boring, a caper of cooks and cops, which is momentarily brought to life only by the sound of Jeffrey Wright’s magnificent voice and one of the best character lines I can think of. recollection in a movie, uttered by another Willem Dafoe, a regular at the Anderson ensemble: “How are you going to kill me?”

Sometimes the movie feels like it should be called Scènes de France: exercises in style, less a single film with a unified plot and more a series of disconnected stories designed as opportunities for Anderson to experiment with different visual aesthetics – animation, split screens, stop-motion, black and white. It is also an opportunity for Anderson to parody France and French culture (a morgue strike? Only in France) as well as to pay tribute to a time when intrepid journalists often had to risk their lives for their profession. The impressive roster of writers and editors to whom the film is dedicated – Wallace Shawn, James Baldwin, James Thurber and EB White, among others – allows Anderson and the other writers of the film (Roman Coppola, Hugo Guinness and Jason Schwartzman) to express their nostalgia for a period of time before likes and retweets are the measure of a story’s impact.

Yet an exercise in nostalgia, however stylish, does not make a good film. The French dispatch contains several ideas for several films, but not quite a good film. What redeems it, however, and what would have made a whole good movie if the chapter had been developed into an entire movie, is the in-between episode about imprisoned painter Moses Rosenthaler. Told us a lecturer at the Kansas Art Museum named JKL Berensen (Tilda Swinton, disguised by her American accent as well as what appears to be a set of false teeth), Rosenthaler (Benicio Del Toro) was “certainly the voice of strongest artist of his rowdy generation. The son of an affluent Mexican Jewish horse breeder, he traded a prosperous education for misery, misery, crime, and art. He is a brilliant painter and he is also serving a 50-year sentence in a French prison for double homicide. (Compare Caravaggio’s comparisons.) Art dealer Julian Cadazio (Adrien Brody) has discovered this and wants to buy one of his works. Rosenthaler says he would sell it for 50-75 cigarettes; Cadazio said he would buy it for 250,000 francs.

As Cadazio falls in love with the art of Rosenthaler, Rosenthaler’s prison guard, Simone (Lea Seydoux) falls in love with him, becoming his model, his muse and his supplier of paints, brushes and canvases (probably smuggled). Their business is as French as it gets. “I don’t love you,” Simone declares to her after a love session, to which Rosenthaler retorts: “Already? Simone, however, loves Rosenthaler’s art, and when Rosenthaler becomes suicidal because he has no more ideas on what to paint, Simone saves it from himself and simultaneously saves his art for posterity. (fictitious). Rosenthaler never emerges decisively from his discomfort, but with a new goal – an ambitious series of paintings that he agreed to deliver to Cadazio – he found his salvation through his art, and with it a meaning for what had been to him an otherwise dull, meaningless existence. Rosenthaler may never be allowed to leave prison – Cadazio comically (and unwittingly) assures him – but in the end we have to imagine Moses Rosenthaler happy.

Daniel Ross Goodman is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Salzburg and author of Somewhere above the rainbow: wonder and religion in American cinema and the novel A single life.

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