The French Dispatch: director Wes Anderson's French connections

This summer, quirky filmmaker extraordinaire Wes Anderson (The Grand Budapest Hotel) returns with his latest all-star confection, The French Dispatch.

Anderson favourite Bill Murray leads the cast of this Europe-set story, playing an ex-pat American journalist who gathers a host of other writers from around the continent to work on the titular periodical. The ensemble really is something else: Timothee Chalamet, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, Adrien Brody, Jeffrey Wright, Owen Wilson, Elisabeth Moss, Willem Dafoe, Saoirse Ronan and Christoph Waltz are among those featuring.

By its very nature, Wes Anderson’s latest film has a strong Gallic influence. It comprises three separate stories surrounding a publication based in a fictional French city – even the trailer teases this stylish multi-story structure, with shifts in aspect ratio, and regular shifts from colour to black and white. In other words: classic Wes Anderson.

While the Texan director’s work has taken him all over the world, France is never far from his mind. Anderson has a home in Paris and, as you’re about to see from our exploration of his past work, the sights, sounds, and culture of France are regularly woven into his fantastical creations.

1. Rushmore (1998)

There are a couple of obvious visual cues in Anderson’s breakthrough comedy, about a precocious young student at a prestigious academy. Jason Schwartzman’s character Max Fishcher wears a striking red beret and is also the founder of Rushmore’s French Club. French culture plays a much deeper role in the story than that, however, with several nods to some of Anderson’s filmmaking heroes sprinkled in.

The general theme of teenage rebellion can be said to be a comedic twist on French New Wave classic The 400 Blows, while several works of French jazz feature in the soundtrack. The work of Jacques Cousteau (more on him later) is referenced, and very specific references are made to Jacques-Henri Lartigue, most specifically the shot of Max as the founder of the Yankee Racers club, a visual recreation of Lartigue's 1908 picture ‘Zissou’s Bobsled with Wheels’.

2. The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)

Arguably the director’s best-received work, this dramedy of family dysfunction has its roots in many French cinema classics. The plot of a man trying to reconnect with those he loves is partially inspired by 1963 film The Fire Within, about a suicidal man looking for a reason to live by seeking out his friends.

The romantic connection between adoptive siblings Margot (Gwyneth Paltrow) and Ritchie (Luke Wilson) also bear resemblance to the plot of the celebrated Les Enfants Terribles, a film about a brother-sister romance. And Margot has herself become something of a style icon among many of the film’s fans, with her look being completed by a pink bag by Hermes, a luxury French brand.

3. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004)

Anderson’s underwater adventure is dedicated to famed oceanographer Jacques Cousteau, a heavy influence on the titular character of Steve Zissou (played by Bill Murray), and many aspects of the character’s life are references to the great man.

Zissou’s book ‘The Fighting Eels of Antibes’ is very much in the style of Cousteau’s publications, while the two men share a signature uniform of a red woolen hat and light blue shirt. The aforementioned Jacques-Henri Lartigue again makes a cameo of sorts, with a picture of Zissou’s mentor actually being a picture of the photographer. The character is also named after Latigue’s brother Zissou, who is a subject of many of his photographs.

4. Hotel Chevalier (2007)

The prelude to Anderson’s 2017 film The Darjeeling Limited is set in Paris, and the director’s self-financed short is a love letter to the romance of the city.

When Jason Schwartzmann’s character Jack says to his former lover (Natalie Portman) “Wanna see my view of Paris?”, one might imagine Anderson posing that question to the audience. Through their experiences, the two characters re-connect, and they later retreat back to their room in the Hotel Chevalier, which complements the appearance of France’s Hotel Citreon in The Life Aquatic.

5. Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)

In Anderson’s stop-motion adaptation of Roald Dahl’s classic story, eagle-eyed viewers may notice a sign for ‘Dutronc’ Detective Agency. The sign of the famous Parisian detective agency Duluc Detective is renamed in reference to Jacques Dutronc, a popular Gallic singer-turned-actor who enjoyed his heyday in the 1960s and 1970s.

There’s also a partial reference to detective classic Stolen Kisses, directed by François Truffaut, one of the pioneers of the French New Wave cinema movement. And two pieces of music from French composer Georges Delerue feature on the Fantastic Mr. Fox soundtrack – the late Delerue was regarded as one of the finest French film composers of all time, and his scores played a pivotal role in the New Wave era (‘Camille’ from 1963 classic Contempt is just such an example).

6. Moonrise Kingdom (2012)

Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom is the charming story of a girl guide and a boy scout who go on the run together, forcing their island community to band together and find them. Little wonder comparisons were drawn with director Jean-Luc Godard’s film Pierrot le Fou, which has a similar theme of a couple on the run and certain aesthetic similarities, such as the objects the characters use to defend themselves (rifles and scissors play a part in both narratives).

Anderson himself has cited Truffaut’s The 400 Blows and Small Change, both films centered around youth, as movies that were in his mind when writing the film. A more obvious connection is the use of Francois Hardy's infectious 'Le Temps De L'amour during the scene where our runaway heroes dance together. And then there's the film's French composer, Alexandre Desplat, who has worked on the scores for every Wes Anderson film since Fantastic Mr. Fox and won an Oscar for his contribution to The Grand Budapest Hotel. (Desplat is also writing the score for The French Dispatch.)

The French Dispatch is released in Cineworld cinemas on the 28th of August. Check out the trailer below and tweet us your essential Wes Anderson French connections @Cineworld.

James Luxford is a writer who blogs for Cineworld as part of our news team. Follow him on Twitter.