The French Dispatch is the latest instalment of Wes Anderson’s offbeat, highly stylised brand of filmmaking. Described as a ‘love letter to journalists’, the film follows a troupe of expat contributors to The French Dispatch of the Liberty, Kansas Evening Sun newspaper, and is set in the wryly named fictional French city of Ennui-sur-Blasé.
The director’s productions are known for their unfathomable attention to detail, yet The French Dispatch seems especially ambitious in its staggering number and variety of sets, props and graphic design elements.
The film’s soundtrack has also been carefully considered, with Jarvis Cocker, who plays pop star Tip-Top, taking the reins on lead track Aline, a cover of the mournful 1965 French hit by Christophe, who also happened to inspire Tip-Top’s character.
Anderson decided that the cover was so good it deserved a promo to go with it, resulting in his first-ever music video. A mini movie in and of itself, it took the director, the film’s artist Javi Aznarez, and seven other creatives a total of eight months to complete the hand-drawn video.
Aznarez is best known for applying his Hergé-esque, ligne claire style to books, storyboards, exhibitions and, crucially, editorial for the likes of the New Yorker – a magazine that Anderson has a lifelong infatuation with and pays homage to throughout the film.
As well as creating covers for The French Dispatch and drawing live on camera for scenes in which the magazine’s in-house artist is drawing, one of the most challenging elements the Spanish illustrator worked on was the video for Aline.
“Javi did the full layout: all of the backgrounds, all of the character design, but then for Tip-Top himself, he drew dozens and dozens of faces, movements and expressions,” says Anderson’s co-producer, Octavia Peissel, in an interview with WePresent (the digital arts platform produced by WeTransfer, which collaborated on the project with Fox Searchlight Pictures and Anderson). When it came to bringing Aznarez’s drawings to life, Peissel brought in a team of animators along with Anderson himself.
Reflecting the film’s plot, the video sees Tip-Top taking us on a journey through Ennui-sur-Blasé. We watch as he cheerfully uses a floating corpse in a canal as a stepping stone, for instance, or as he dances past Tilda Swinton’s character observing some elderly French gentlemen play pétanque.
What’s most striking is just how French the video feels, an achievement that is partly down to Aznarez’s personal experiences. His wife is from Paris, he lived there for five years, and he still visits France a few times every year.
“When I found out that The French Dispatch was set in a fictional town heavily inspired by historical Paris, it was great because it was a world I already knew and appreciated,” he tells WePresent. “So, in the Aline video, most of the elements come from the film itself, but anything that I had to add or invent came from my imagination and my memories of Paris.”
The end result is a testament not only to Anderson’s vision but also his ability to recognise great creative talent when he sees it. “I’ve worked on a lot of different films and a lot of these projects where it’s Wes collaborating with an artist, and I just found that this was such a good match,” says Peissel. “I think the result is just astounding, really. It’s a perfect synthesis of the world of that film, but so much of Javi, and of Wes and his characters. It’s just a great symbiotic thing.”
Company: Fox Searchlight Pictures
Artist/Singer: Jarvis Cocker
Illustrator & Animation: Javi Aznarez
Director: Wes Anderson
Producer: Octavia Peissel
Animation Supervisor/Lead Animator/Lead Compositor: Arnau Sola
Animators: Fernando Abaca; Libardo Bohoroquez; Toni Sala
Colour Artists: Julia Olivella, Miguel Angel Canillas
Post Production & Compositing: Alex Roca