Lea Seydoux

The French Dispatch

23/10/21

Cameo, Edinburgh

The word ‘quirky’ could almost have been invented for Wes Anderson. Since his breakthrough with Bottle Rocket in 1996, the director has relentlessly followed the path less travelled. Along the way, he’s dallied with stop-frame animation and, in his live-action features, has developed a visual style used by nobody else in the business. Take off a blindfold in a movie theatre and watch ten seconds of any one of his films and, chances are, you’ll recognise his style instantly.

Now here’s the much-delayed The French Dispatch, a portmanteau made up of three short films, linked by a framing device. It probably has a valid claim for being the most Wes Anderson-like film yet as it employs all of the tics and, yes, quirks we associate with him: those bizarre doll house vistas; jarring cuts from colour to monochrome; weird frozen tableaux of action scenes – and characters that are as eccentric as they are amusing. And, of course, there’s also the WA repertory company, a seemingly endless supply of big-name actors, who seem perfectly happy to put their famous mugs in front of the camera, even if they’ve not actually been given much to do.

We begin at the offices of the titular publication, a New Yorker-style literary magazine that is itself an offshoot off a newspaper in Kansas, yet somehow has its headquarters at the top of a ramshackle building in the sleepy French town of Ennui-Sur-Blasé. It’s from here that editor Arthur Howitzer Jnr (Bill Murray) sends his various critics around the country to seek out and document stories of interest – and we are subsequently treated to three of them, all set in the 1960s.

First up we have the tale of convicted murderer, Moses Rosenthaler (Benicio Del Toro), who, inspired by his love for prison warden – and sometime model – Simone (Lea Seydoux), decides to express his love, by creating works of modern art in tribute to her. He inadvertently becomes a cause celebre. Next there’s the story of journalist Lucinda Krementz (Frances McDormand) and her dalliance with dashing young revolutionary, Zefferelli (Timothée Chalamet), whose rebellion against authority is played out as a literal game of chess. Finally, there’s the story of writer Roebuck Wright (Jeffrey Wright), assigned to write a piece about celebrated prison chef, Nescafier (Steve Park), only to find himself caught up in a kidnapping drama involving the adopted son of the prison’s Commisaire (Mathieu Almaric).

The stories are dazzlingly told and the main theme here seems to be one of affection for an age that’s largely gone – a yearning for old-school journalism, when editors cared more about the writing than the money it might generate. Anderson – who co-wrote the story – also has much scorn to heap on the world of art, mocking the ways in which commerce waits greedily in the wings to get its hooks into the next big thing, qualities evidenced by Adrien Brody’s ruthless art dealer, Julien Cadazio. There’s some evident homaging going on here too. The second piece eerily captures the look of French new wave cinema – and did I imagine that little salute to The Twilight Zone’s Rod Serling?

I have to say that I admire The French Dispatch enormously, rather than love it. There’s always an element of grandstanding about Anderson’s work, a celebration of his own uniqueness that can sometimes feel a little too arch – and the parade of characters unleashed here are essentially caricatures rather than people I can believe in. Perhaps that’s entirely the point, but it’s a quality that can polarise audiences.

Suffice to say, if you’re a fan of the director, you certainly won’t be disappointed by what’s on offer here. This is Wes Anderson turned up all the way up to 11. And, in the unlikely event that it’s the first of his films you’ve seen, then enjoy the trip.

4.4 stars

Philip Caveney

SPECTRE

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08/11/15

The James Bond movies seem to have settled into a regular pattern – a decent outing alternating with a not so decent one. I’ve been following the films since Dr No and was initially delighted with Daniel Craig’s efforts. Casino Royale delivered a much needed kick up the franchise, even if most of its chops were nicked from The Bourne Identity. Craig seemed to cleave closer to Ian Fleming’s vision of his infamous antihero and the silly gimmicks were kept to a minimum. Quantum of Solace felt like a decidedly patchy follow-up, which never really built up a head of steam. Skyfall of course, kicked things clear out of the stadium, becoming the most successful Bond film of all time, which leaves returning director Sam Mendes only one direction in which to take things. Down.

In the latest outing, Bond is (once again) looking like he’s all washed up. He’s gone out on his own in search of the orchestrator of a sinister organisation and M (Ralph Fiennes) has no option but to order him to stand down. Not that it deters him at all. With the help of Q (Ben Wishaw) and Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) he loads his gun and heads out after the bad guys. Before you can say implausible, he’s heading off to a variety of locations to hunt down whichever evil mastermind is behind the latest series of outrages. Meanwhile, the headquarters of MI6, bombed to destruction in Skyfall, have been replaced by a brand new super dooper high rise building, masterminded by C (Andrew Scott) who may as well have the word ‘dodgy’ tattooed on his forehead.

The film starts promisingly with a pre-credits sequence set amidst Mexico City’s El Dia De Muerte celebrations. There’s a Touch of Evil style tracking shot, some massive explosions and a helicopter-set punch up that redefines the word ‘thrilling.’ If the rest of the film was up to this standard, it would be a wonderful thing indeed. Instead, after Sam Smith’s forgettable theme song, (too shrill by half) we’re treated to some exposition, which, after that brilliant opening salvo, seems to move with all the urgency of molasses in winter. It takes quite a while for the film to recover – there’s a forgettable car chase, a punch up on a train that echoes Connery’s fight with Robert Shaw in From Russia With Love, a new love interest with Gallic moody monkey Lea Seydoux and a brief snogathon with Monica Bellucchi that looks like it’s crawled straight out of the sexist 60s. Things don’t really pick up much until chief villain Oberhauzer (Cristophe Waltz) puts in a belated appearance, whereupon we’re treated to a bit of torture, (always a great way to focus the attention), followed by what ought to be the finale.

Except that it’s not. There’s another finale, which though decently executed feels like a sequence too far (and judging by the legions of audience members paying a visit to the loo, we weren’t the only ones who felt this way). SPECTRE is decent entertainment and it’s savvy enough to reference many of the earlier movies, but it’s not strong enough to take its place with the best examples of the series. Some tightening up would have helped it hit all the right targets, but as it stands, this falls into the usual pattern. ‘Bond will return’ promises a credit, but will he be Daniel Craig? Watch this space.

3.8 stars

Philip Caveney

The Lobster

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18/10/15

There’s no other way of saying it. The Lobster is weird.

This surreal blend of dark comedy and occasional violence won the Jury prize at this year’s Cannes Film Festival and it represents Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos’s first foray into the English language. It was strangely heartening to see that despite its unabashed art house ambitions, it had somehow managed to pull a decent crowd into a multiplex on a Sunday afternoon. Gratifying too, that only a few people walked out of the showing shaking their heads.

David ( a barely recognisable Colin Farrell) finds himself dumped by his wife of twelve years (well, eleven years and one month, to be exact – the film is very pedantic about things like that). In the dystopian society in which the story is set, this means that he soon finds himself whisked off to a mysterious seaside hotel, where he has just forty five days to find himself a new partner. If he fails in his quest, he will be transformed into the animal of his choice and ‘set free’. David opts to be a lobster, because he’s always been quite good at boating and water sports. Meanwhile, he and his fellow guests go out on daily hunting expeditions in the forest, shooting ‘loners’ in the nearby woods with tranquilliser guns. For every loner they bring back, their time at the hotel will be extended. On his first day there, David meets up with ‘the limping man’ (Ben Whishaw) and ‘the lisping man’ (John C. Reilly) and forms an uneasy alliance with them – in this world, people are defined by their characteristics – David, for instance, is shortsighted. The hotel is presided over by Olivia Colman and her partner, (Gary Mountaine) who can always be called upon to perform a hysterically funny version of a Gene Pitney number, when required (trust me, it works!). Indeed, the first half of the film, is often laugh-oh-loud funny. Whishaw introducing himself to the other guests is a particular delight. In the later sections, when David goes on the run in the forest and falls under the wing of a survivalist leader (Lea Seydoux), the laughs are somewhat harder to find, but the narrative still holds you in its grip, right up to the tense and decidedly unresolved ending.

Yes, you say, but what is The Lobster actually about? Good question.

For me, it’s an allegory about relationships and the immense pressure that is placed upon them by the expectations of society. It’s about the way people have to compromise with each other in order to coexist. And it’s about mankind’s inherent selfishness, the casual cruelty that people will often inflict upon one another. It’s by no means a perfect film – but in its own, unconventional way, it’s more challenging than anything else you’re likely to encounter at the cinema, these days. And one thing’s for sure. You’ll talk about it afterwards.

4 stars

Philip Caveney