The French Dispatch and Wes Anderson’s Aesthetic at 180 Studios – A Review

Written by Hebe Hancock and Mikayla Lorini


“The second thing I always wanted to do was to make a movie about the New Yorker”. The film is not totally based around the New Yorker magazine, but it was “totally inspired by it”.

Delayed for months due to COVID, The French Dispatch is one of this year’s most anticipated films. With a star studded cast that boasts Adrien Brody as the art dealer, Timothee Chalamet as a student revolutionary movement leader, Frances McDormand as American journalist, Bill Murray as founder and editor, and Tilda Swinton as writer and lecturer, Anderson’s film follows the creation of “The French Dispatch”, a factual weekly report on the subjects of world politics, the arts, fashion, cuisine, and the diverse stories of human-interest set in faraway, which exploded out of the café-lined cities of Europe.


(Blandine Hausermann)


Located inside 180 Studios on the Strand, the exhibition is almost impossible to miss – even the outside has been transformed into the fictional town of Ennui-sur-Blasé, France. From the moment you step foot into the world of the French Dispatch, Wes Anderson’s signature style, attention to detail and eye for production design is immediately clear. His unique, instantly recognisable aesthetic and idiosyncratic style has won him awards and legions of fans, and this is no exception. It’s clear from the beginning that theatricality is a defining aspect of Anderson’s visual language; the distinct colour palette, directorial style and the look and feel of a Wes Anderson movie has been captured; you are able to slip into another meticulously-crafted vision of a fictionalised foreign land.



(Blandine Hausermann)


The exhibition itself is an immersive tour through the four main stories that make up the film, beginning with ‘The Cycling Reporter’, a travelogue of the city itself; largely dedicated to general French Dispatch items – sets, miniatures, maps, costumes and many props. This is followed by ‘The Concrete Masterpiece’, where the exhibition takes a dark turn, visiting the prison cell of a criminally insane painter, his guard and muse, and his ravenous dealers. The third sector of the exhibition leads you through a suspenseful tale of drugs, kidnapping and fine dining, labelled ‘The Private Dining Room of the Police Commissioner’. Finally, ‘Revisions to a Manifesto’, described as a ‘chronicle of love and death on the barricades at the height of student revolt’, with printed posters and slogans scrawled on the city’s walls, based on the 1968 student revolution which took place in Ennui-sur—Blasé - the home of the French dispatch.



(Blandine Hausermann)



​​While Wes Anderson’s iconic aesthetic fills this exhibit, there is also a subtle homage to his consistent use of culture in his art. From Japanese culture’s central role in Isle of Dogs to The Darjeeling Limited relying on Indian culture throughout the plot, this theme pops up again in The French Dispatch except this time it is the presence of the American tourist in French culture. This dualistic approach is evident from the moment you enter the exhibit, and follows you in the inclusion of art, food, and cultural stereotypes all depicted through props and art originally from the film.



(Blandine Hausermann)



In “The Cycling Reporter”, we are instantly transported to Anderson’s vision of a rendition of the city of Paris, but through the lens of an American reporter that has established a publication office in the calm Ennui-sur-Blasé; while it is ironic in its name, it also highlights early 20th century American artists and writers that were fascinated with European cultures, particularly French culture. We see this in not just Anderson’s inspiration for the film’s plot, but also in the Americanized map of his fictional city and the districts it houses, and within the model of stereotypical French buildings and the poorly translated French posters behind it. Anderson is really trying to point to his introduction of joining French and American culture throughout the film, and this was noted by the exhibit’s curator, Kevin Timon-Hill.



(Mikayla Lorini)



As we move into the Obituary section, there are less obvious references to the cultural aspect, with a display dedicated to the unique beverage choices of his writers and Owen Wilson’s original bike from the film. While the room focuses on the death of the editor, Anderson also creates subtle nods to French culture as being absorbed by these American influences.



(Mikayla Lorini)



Each drink selected for the writers, from French wine to Coca-Cola to even Tabasco, we begin to see the “melting pot culture” that is attributed to the Americans, yet it is set against the backdrop of Ennui-sur-Blasé. With our trusted cycling reporter, a character inspired by a collection of past writers, it symbolizes that all of these reporters will become a part of French culture by emulating stereotypical habits to “feel” as if they are truly part of France, like cycling through a city to capture the culture as pseudo-citizen (whether this is truly satire or simply stereotyping, that will be left up to interpretation).




(Mikayla Lorini)



As we progress into the Arts and Artists section, a much clearer historical connection is embedded in the plot, and Timon-Hill, consequently, brings this idea to the forefront immensely. In this larger-than-life collection of paintings, our attention is immediately drawn to the chaotic paintings of abstract naked women, a classic connection between a tortured artist and his muse.



(Blandine Hausermann)



The selection of props and imagery establishes Anderson’s incorporation of 20th century artists through the idea of the “tortured soul” paving their way through the modern art movement. This reminds us of many other great artists that struggled down this path, yet we are also faced with discerning inspiration from a simple trope. The nature of his “Concrete Masterpiece” leads us to question his role as either a symbol for the French artistic legacy or as an artistic innovator with a unique perspective in Anderson’s film.



(Blandine Hausermann)



In the “Tastes and Smells” sector, this well-lit room represents a more elegant part of the film, especially through a rise in the significance of food, while also establishing a conflict between beauty and deceit. The costumes embody elegance and suave inspired by what reminds us of the 1930s, yet the supporting images and artistic props provide a stark contrast that suggest a period where enjoyment was lined with a hidden expense.



(Blandine Hausermann)



This metaphor is furthered at the heart of the exhibit by photographs of iconic culinary moments that are connected to the deceit and escape of characters forcefully taken into “The Private Dining Room of the Police Commissioner.” Timon-Hill gracefully embodies the beauty of culture while prompting Anderson’s artistic choices that excite the plot and cultural references.



(Blandine Hausermann)



The final exhibit of this tour through the film is the “Politics/Poetry” room, a more upbeat yet sarcastic room that uses youth and culture to explore the idea of “Revisions of the Manifesto.” While our eyes are immediately drawn to images of Timothée Chalemet and his wild appearance, our true cultural interest lies in Anderson’s potentially satirical reference to the French culture of protesting that is expertly incorporated into both the exhibit and film through the inclusion of riot gear and picket signs.



(Mikayla Lorini)



While the “Boys Allowed” and “Nous ne sommes pas sleepy” signs are both youthful and light-hearted, Anderson also shows us how the American lens perceives foreign cultures and its features. As a fictional American reporter, they see this as the wide-eyed youth of an ironically sleepy village that wants change; thus, the random spread of posters and signs and yellow as a unifying colour throughout the room try to represent this wildness. If we move deeper into the metaphor, there is also a very adult-like message that links these certain props and costumes, and this is not just the literal adult featured in certain photographs, but a message about maturity and growth, a fitting end to this exhibit.




(Blandine Hausermann)



Generally speaking, the space holds an impressive range of movie paraphernalia, from props, costumes and original sets to artwork and graphic design created especially for the film. “Everything in here is either a still from the film or an actual costume or piece of scenery or miniature,” explained the film’s art director, Timon Hill. Once you’ve taken in all the exhibits, you are led to a recreation of the film’s café, “Le Sans Blague”, where you can purchase quintessentially French drinks and snacks and leaf through your own souvenir copy of The French Dispatch magazine.



(Blandine Hausermann)



This gave us a moment to settle in the experience, while continuing this feeling of being in the film. Throughout, we have seen that Anderson’s typical “borrowing” of material from previous writers and filmmakers is heightened by the blended cultural approach he took in the film, which the exhibit consistently highlights throughout the distinct rooms and most obviously in the café. Much thought was given into the coupling of French culture and the physical representation as a sort of whimsical fantasy, a phrase that many others have also attributed to Anderson’s aesthetic. We are left wondering if culture was used satirical, stereotypically or as an artistic avenue for Anderson to export his classic aesthetic once again. The choice is left to the lens of the reporter.




(Blandine Hausermann)



The French Dispatch exhibition is at 180 the strand until December 12th, 2021, with tickets costing £10. Timed tickets must be booked online before visiting.




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