Like other Wes Anderson films, The French dispatch is littered with crackling and memorable dialogues. Almost every character in the film receives at least one quote line, with more impactful characters like Bill Murray’s Arthur Howitzer Jr. getting several.
The dialogue moves at a rapid pace, guiding most of the narrative through cheeky explanations and in-depth exposure. With almost every character being an eloquent master of the written word, The French dispatch is a film that serves as a love letter to the beauty found both in the creation of art and in the fluent vernacular.
Arthur Howitzer Jr.
“Don’t cry in my office!”
This quote from Arthur Howitzer Jr. by Bill Murray, editor-in-chief of The French Dispatch, works well because a visual gag occurs immediately afterwards. The individual he is speaking to, young Morisot, looks up to see a sign that directly reflects Howitzer Jr.’s words: Do not Cry.
Howitzer Jr. is indeed the heart of the film, and Murray makes him one of the The French dispatchthe nicest characters. It technically comes before the beginning of the story, but it is the common thread of the three stories (he knows the character of McDormand, the character of Tilda Swinton and the character of Jeffrey Wright).
“All great beauties hide their deepest secrets.”
Owen Wilson’s Herbsaint Sazerac isn’t in many The French dispatch, almost entirely relegated to its brief segment “The Cycling Reporter”.
It’s a very dialogue-rich scene in which the camera follows Sazerac’s pace, with him looking into the camera while riding a bike (intermittently looking forward). “All great beauties hold their deepest secrets” is the beginning of her explanation of the city of Boredom. Unfortunately, this explanation comes to an abrupt end when Sazerac is thrown from the bike (for the second time).
Arthur Howitzer Jr.
“Just try to make it look like you wrote it that way on purpose.”
A line lovingly delivered by Bill Murray (who makes the most of very limited screen time as Arthur Howitzer Jr.), “Just make it sound like you wrote it that way on purpose” is fully revealing of a man who loves writers.
This in itself is the point and the appeal of Howitzer Junior. The creator of The French dispatch, he is a strong supporter of the autonomy of writers and believes in supporting them until they can flourish. It wouldn’t be unpopular to say Howitzer Jr. is one of his best characters.
“Let’s start with typos.”
While Timothée Chalamet’s groundbreaking student Zeffirelli is in the tub, famous journalist Lucinda Krementz (Frances McDormand) walks in to speak to him. With him, he has a manifesto containing all the tasks that revolutionaries wish to accomplish. He asks her (somewhat arrogantly) to reread it, saying “My parents think you are a good writer.”
After that, Zefirelli quickly gets out of the tub and hands him the manifesto. She said, “It’s a little wet. He responds by asking: “Physically or metaphorically? After replying that it is both, Zeffirelli strongly suggests that he not criticize him (although he gave it to her for them). She wonders what he wants her to do, to which he replies that he basically wanted her to tell him it was okay. Krementz looks at him and says, “Let’s start with typos. Apparently it was way below the level of quality he assumed.
“It’s not for sale.”
Perhaps one of Benicio Del Toro’s best roles, Moses Rosenthal is both a brilliant painter and a murderer of at least two people. When he receives a visit from Julien Cadazio from Adrien Brody, the two men engage in a strange form of bargaining.
Cadazio wants the painting “Simone nue” by Rosenthal. Rosenthal says “It’s not for sale.” Cadazio’s response is simple: “Yes, it is.” This exchange is repeated over and over again until Cadazio notices that Rosenthal is constantly watching the guard standing behind the cell door. When Cadazio asks why, Rosenthal growls: “It’s Simone.” Rosenthal’s refusal to sell the painting until he essentially has Simone’s approval is telling.
“Are you sure?”
During “Revisions to a Manifesto”, Ms. Krementz comes face to face with Juliette, the revolutionary student with an intimidating presence that rivals if not surpasses that of Zeffirelli.
Krementz insults Juliette by calling her immature, then quickly retracts. Juliette insults Krementz in return, calling her an “old maid” (in part because she is jealous of Krementz’s affair with Zeffirelli). Juliette refuses to accept Krementz’s apologies and reaffirms that she is an adult. Krementz asks “Are you sure? But we don’t know exactly what it refers to. Juliette feels the same and asks for clarification. Krementz goes on to explain that being an adult requires maturity and that the ability to accept apologies is crucial.
“They were his people.”
The French dispatch Technically has multiple narrators, but the main one, which opens the film, has several terrific quotes. “It was his people” is a phrase used in several contexts throughout the film, but it is the application by narrator Anjelica Huston to describe Howitzer Jr. that is best used.
In an exhibition lot depicting the rise of The French expedition as well as the death of Howitzer Jr., Huston’s narrator said: “He assembled a team of the best Patriotic journalists of his time. Berensen, Salzerac, Krements, Roebuck Wright. They were his people.” It’s a brief quote that manages to capture the writers’ refuge designed by Murray’s Howitzer Jr.
“Bad slide. It’s me.”
Tilda Swinton’s JKL Berensen is one of Wes Anderson’s best dressed characters, but not for the entirety of his looks. She is primarily the narrator of the Moses Rosenthaler-Simone segment, explaining the painter and his muse to a crowded auditorium.
While explaining “Simone nude”, Berensen tries to show the image to the public. Instead, the next slide is a photograph of a completely nude person, none other than Berensen herself. With a toothy smile and only a little embarrassment, she laughed at it with “Bad slide. It’s me.” The French dispatch may not be considered one of Tilda Swinton’s best movies, but it is one of her funniest performances.
“I hate flowers.”
Howitzer Jr. asks for clarification on the direction of Sazerac’s new piece. It is an exposition of the history of Boredom but has no beauty. It refers to prostitution, stabbing and everything.
Howitzer Jr. asks where are the beautiful qualities of Boredom. He suggests adding something to make it more readable by the masses. Something like a florist. In response, Sazerac said “I hate flowers”. It’s succinct and sums up Sazerac’s priorities: truthfulness before marketing.
Simone’s delivery of the “No.” line. is memorable for the speed and security with which it says it. She and Moses Rosenthaler were lying in bed after another painting session. He clearly has something in mind and is trying to express it, but she cuts it off with “No.”
“No.” is repeated every time he tries because she knows what he means. Sadly, she says she doesn’t love him and will never love him. She doesn’t even want to hear him say it, which serves to betray her true feelings (as shown by the teary look in her eyes as she walks out of her life).
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