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Quirky auteur and six-time Oscar nominee Wes Anderson has written and directed nine films over the course of his two-decades-long career, but it’s the tenth—the now-in-production period piece The French Dispatch—that concerns us today. Though this new Wes Anderson film project has begun to take shape of late, there’s still a healthy bit of mystery surrounding it, so since the film has been described in early reports as “a love letter to journalists,” what better way for us to reciprocate that affection than by doing journalism about it? Here’s everything we know about The French Dispatch so far.
We at Paste first took notice of The French Dispatch in early December, not long after the project began production in France. IndieWire was the first Stateside publication to catch wind of the film, reporting on Dec. 2, 2018, that Anderson and company had surreptitiously started shooting the live-action film one week earlier in the city of Angoulême in Southwestern France, as spotted by various local French papers. One such paper, Charente Libre, had reported in September that Anderson’s film was a musical, a claim that IndieWire debunked, citing a source close to the production who described The French Dispatch as “a love letter to journalists set at an outpost of an American newspaper in 20th-century Paris [that] centers on three storylines,” implying Anderson’s characteristic blend of comedy and drama.
IndieWire had little to add to previous reports regarding The French Dispatch’s production timeline—both their report and Charente Libre’s suggested a November start for the shoot, with the French outlet adding that production had been moved up from an original February start date and would run “for a period of four to five months” with an estimated budget of 15-20 million euros, or $17.2-22.9 million USD (all per Google Translate).
That IndieWire report went on point out that the production is Anderson’s first set in Paris, despite the filmmaker calling the French capital home. This suggests that in The French Dispatch, Angoulême will stand in for the actual City of Lights, or perhaps for a fictionalized French city, a la Megasaki, the invented Japanese metropolis of Isle of Dogs—Charente Libre, citing one of numerous anonymous sources, also reported that The French Dispatch will take place in an “imaginary city.”
The French publication went on to note that Anderson—whose obsession with mise en scène is one of his defining qualities as a filmmaker—will make Angoulême “a character” in the film, “80 to 85 percent” of which will be shot locally. “He fell in love with the old cobbled streets of [Angoulême’s] city center, and also the ramparts,” they explained, citing a film industry source as saying that Anderson wanted a French city with “unevenness, stairs and preserved architecture” (again, per Google Translate).
Assuming you’re not skipping around this post all willy-nilly, you already know as much about The French Dispatch’s plot as we do. Its description as “a love letter to journalists set at an outpost of an American newspaper in 20th-century Paris [that] centers on three storylines” is the closest thing we have to a plot synopsis at the moment.
IndieWire’s initial report on The French Dispatch credited “Anderson (and his posse)” with the film’s script, though for now, IMDb lists him as its sole screenwriter. Anderson has collaborated with other writers on all nine of his films thus far: He cowrote his first three films, Bottle Rocket (1996), Rushmore (1998) and The Royal Tenenbaums (2001) alongside Owen Wilson; his fourth, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004), with Noah Baumbach; his fifth, The Darjeeling Limited (2007), with Roman Coppola and Jason Schwartzman; his sixth, Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009), adapted from Roald Dahl’s novel alongside Baumbach; his seventh, Moonrise Kingdom (2012) with Coppola; his eighth, The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) with first-time screenwriter Hugo Guinness; and his ninth, Isle of Dogs (2018), with Coppola, Schwartzman and Kunichi Nomura. It remains unclear which combination of Anderson’s frequent collaborators joined him in penning The French Dispatch.
As with any Anderson film, The French Dispatch’s cast is arguably its main attraction. The film’s ensemble comprises Anderson regulars Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, Adrien Brody and Bob Balaban, as well as a number of newcomers to Anderson’s perfectly curated world, including Benicio Del Toro, Timothee Chalamet, Jeffrey Wright, Lois Smith and its most recent addition, none other than Henry Winkler.
Per IndieWire’s initial report, Léa Seydoux, Natalie Portman and Brad Pitt—who worked with Anderson on The Grand Budapest Hotel, his 2007 short film Hotel Chevalier and a SoftBank commercial, respectively—have each been rumored for roles. For what it’s worth, only Seydoux is listed on the film’s IMDb cast page, as are Saoirse Ronan, Willem Dafoe and Mathieu Amalric (all of whom appeared in The Grand Budapest Hotel), as well as longtime Anderson collaborator Owen Wilson, French-Algerian actress Lyna Khoudri (The Blessed), French actor Denis Ménochet (Inglourious Basterds) and Korean-American actor Steve Park, best known for portraying Mike Yanagita in Joel and Ethan Coen’s Fargo (1996). Those castings, however, remain unconfirmed for the moment.
Anderson produces The French Dispatch alongside Scott Rudin, Jeremy Dawson and Steven Rales through Rales’ Indian Paintbrush. The company has backed the past five Anderson films, from 2007’s The Darjeeling Limited to last year’s Isle of Dogs. Though no distributor for the film has yet been announced, it follows that Fox Searchlight will scoop it up, as they have Anderson’s past two films, Isle of Dogs and The Grand Budapest Hotel.
Judging by the production timeline reported by Charente Libre, we can expect that The French Dispatch will wrap in either March or April of 2019. A premiere date, of course, is far more difficult to project with any accuracy, but for comparison’s sake: Anderson’s last live-action film, The Grand Budapest Hotel, shot for two months, with production running from January to March of 2013—the film wasn’t released until March 2014, one year later. So if post-production on The French Dispatch follows suit, we’re looking at a spring 2020 release window for the film.
We spoke to Winkler about The French Dispatch and working with Anderson on a recent episode of The Paste Podcast—listen below or on iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher, Spotify or Himalaya.
A few days later, Anderson revealed to Charente Libre (via The Playlist) that Christoph Waltz has a small role in The French Dispatch, marking Anderson’s first time working with the Oscar-winning Inglourious Basterds actor. The filmmaker noted that Rupert Friend (Homeland, The Death of Stalin) and Alex Lawther (The End of the F***ing World, Black Mirror) also appear in the film.
Elisabeth Moss revealed in late April that she has a small role in The French Dispatch, as well, telling THR, “I just did a tiny part in a Wes Anderson film, and 100 percent of it was because I wanted to be in a Wes Anderson movie. I’m a tremendous fan. That’s why you get all those other actors in for small parts in his movies, because they just want to work with him.”
As expected, Fox Searchlight acquired The French Dispatch in September, setting a 2020 release for the film and confirming its core cast.
A January 2020 update to The French Dispatch’s IMDb page suggested that the film may sport a whopping 241-minute runtime, clocking in at just over four hours long. It’s also rumored that the film may be released in two parts, one 117 minutes and the other 124—and a director’s cut is said to run a staggering 325 minutes, or about five-and-a-half hours. Turns out this sounded farfetched because it was: Fox Searchlight confirmed (per The Film Stage) that the film’s actual runtime is a much more Anderson-esque 108 minutes, and that the IMDb info was erroneously published.
Searchlight Pictures (fka Fox Searchlight, now rebranded under Disney) set a July 24, 2020, release for The French Dispatch in late January, also sharing the film’s first poster and an official synopsis. The poster appears to tack on a subtitle to the film: The French Dispatch of the Liberty, Kansas Evening Sun. Take a look below.
The French Dispatch brings to life a collection of stories from the final issue of an American magazine published in a fictional 20th-century French city. It stars Benicio Del Toro, Adrien Brody, Tilda Swinton, Lea Seydoux, Frances McDormand, Timothée Chalamet, Lyna Khoudri, Jeffrey Wright, Mathieu Amalric, Stephen Park, Bill Murray and Owen Wilson.
Another poster for the film followed on Feb. 11, offering a stylish new look at the film’s key characters, and was accompanied by the news that the film’s first trailer would be released Wednesday, Feb. 12.
As promised, the film’s first trailer debuted on Feb. 12, along with nearly a dozen first-look images. The trailer also confirms various members of the film’s insane supporting cast, including: Liev Schreiber, Willem Dafoe, Christoph Waltz, Tony Revolori, Rupert Friend, Anjelica Huston, Henry Winkler, Saoirse Ronan, Edward Norton, Cécile De France, Griffin Dunne, Elisabeth Moss, Fisher Stevens, Jason Schwartzman, Lois Smith, Bob Balaban, Guillaume Gallienne, Hippolyte Girardot, Wally Wolodarsky and Pablo Pauly.
Watch this space for further bulletins on The French Dispatch and, in the meantime, revisit our ranking of Anderson’s filmography right here.