Bloody Well Write

The French Dispatch

by Hope Madden and George Wolf

Who’s ready for Wes Anderson’s most Wes Anderson-y movie to date?

It feels like we say that every time he releases a new film, but The French Dispatch is absolutely the inimitable auteur at his most Andersonesque.

The French Dispatch is a magazine — a weekly addition to a Kansas newspaper covering the ins and outs of Ennui, France, the town where the periodical is based. The film itself is an anthology, four shorts (four of the stories published in the final edition) held together not by the one character each has in common, editor Arthur Howitzer, Jr. (Bill Murray), but by Anderson’s giddy admiration for France and The New Yorker.

Boasting everything you’ve come to expect from a Wes Anderson film — meticulous set design, vibrant color, symmetrical composition, elegance and artifice in equal measure, and a massive cast brimming with his own stock ensemble — the film is not one you might mistake for a Scorsese or a Spielberg.

Expect Anderson regulars Tilda Swinton, Mathieu Amalric, Lea Deydoux, Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody, Frances McDormand and newcomers Benicio Del Toro, Timothee Chalamet and Jeffrey Wright. And those are the big roles (although truth be told, no one is on screen all that long).

Blink and you might miss Saoirse Ronin, Willem Dafoe, Henry Winkler, Elisabeth Moss, Ed Norton, Christoph Waltz, Liev Schreiber and Jason Schwartzman.

In the segment filed under the “Taste and Smells” section, Dispatch writer Roebuck Wright (Wright) turns in a sprawling profile on master chef Nescaffier (Steve Park) that – to Howitzer’s chagrin – contains merely one quote from Nescaffier himself. As with the other pieces of the anthology, the many tangents of the piece are explained through Anjelica Huston’s narration, which can’t replace a truly emotional through line and holds the film back from resonating beyond its immaculate construction.

Anderson’s framing of symmetry and motion has never been more tightly controlled, and the film becomes a parade of wonderfully assembled visuals paired with intellectual wordplay and an appropriately spare score from Alexander Desplat.

As a tribute to a lost era of journalism and the indelible writers that drove it, Anderson delivers a fascinating and meticulous exercise boasting impeccable craftsmanship and scattershot moments of wry humor. But the layer of humanity that elevates the writer/director’s most complete films (Rushmore, Moonrise Kingdom, The Grand Budapest Hotel) never makes it from page to screen, and The French Dispatch ultimately earns more respect than feeling.

Am I Blue?

The Blue Room

by Hope Madden

A quietly hypnotic tale that slowly takes shape, The Blue Room is an impressive piece of French cinema. This story of a clandestine love affair is hauntingly told with flashbacks that blend languidly with the present to create a dreamy effect.

Known best for performances like his devastatingly complex Jean-Do in The Diving Bell and The Butterfly, Mathieu Amalric proves just as nimble when behind the camera. He directs, stars and co-adapts the novel by respected and prolific crime writer Georges Simenon, a sordid yet restrained tale of love, suspicion and shame.

While Amalric weaves dreamily between a couple’s passionate moments, the man’s memory of his recent past, and his current predicament, Christophe Beaucarne’s camera articulates every detail. Amalric creates an atmosphere that mirrors his character Julien’s state of mind.

His performance is just as impressive. As these details swim through his consciousness alongside fragments of passion and moments of familial happiness, we and he try to make sense of what’s going on. As we finally, simultaneously, understand, the effect is as devastating to us as it is to Julien.

Amalric’s turn is as restrained as the storytelling, and his face animates his growing helplessness, terror and realization.

It’s a slight story, padded with no fat at all and clocking in at a slick 75 minutes. Within that timeframe, Amalric picks at your nerves, keeps you guessing, and delivers a tidy little mystery.

Verdict-4-0-Stars





Masters and Servants

 

Venus in Fur

by George Wolf

 

A director as accomplished as Roman Polanski doesn’t put anything on film by accident. His latest, Venus in Fur (La Vénus à la fourrure), is an intimate drama with just two, very deliberate cast members.

One is Polanski’s wife, and the other is a dead ringer for the director himself at a younger age, a combination which adds an eyebrow-raising layer of intrigue to what transpires on this psychosexual battlefield.

Polanski also co-wrote this adaptation of David Ives’s Tony award-winning play, which is set entirely within an empty theatre. Thomas (Mathieu Amalric) has finished auditions for a play he’s directing and is about to head home when Vanda (Emannuelle Seigner) appears, begging for a chance to show Thomas that she’s perfect for the lead role in his stage production of Leopold von Sacher-Masoch’s 1870 novel Venus in Furs.

And the play-within-the-play begins, as the brash, uncultured, seemingly unprepared Vanda dazzles Thomas with an uncanny understanding of the material and how best to present it onstage. The two read deeper and deeper into the script, as the line separating fact and fiction gets blurry and the balance of power between them begins to change.

Both performances are exceptional. Seigner gives her long career a new high water mark, effortlessly moving Vanda in and out of character, casting equal spells on Thomas, and on us. Amalric makes Thomas’s journey to subjugation a gradual, satisfying surrender, as he tries to keep up with Vanda in her brilliantly executed game of wits.

As with his Death and the Maiden and more recently, Carnage, Polanski seems to relish digging into these stories of psychological warfare. His touch again is masterful, keeping it light in the early going, and then twisting the screws with clinical camerawork that reflects the growing intensity.

What already was a devious essay on human nature takes on an even greater heft with Polanski at the helm. Lines such as “Maybe she wanted to be corrupted!” stop the wicked humor in its tracks, as you ponder the personal statement that may be at work here.

Is the director a master or servant? Which director exactly? Is this a feminist decree or merely a flimsy, perverse attempt to make “S&M porn” seem empowering?

Those are just some of the levels on which Venus in Fur succeeds. It’s an enthralling, almost dizzying spectacle.

 

Verdict-4-0-Stars