Inside the French Dispatch

Wes Anderson’s star-studded film follows the dramas that unravel in a fictional French city, told from the perspective of expat journalists. We look at how graphic design and illustration brought the movie to life

After a pandemic-induced stop-start, Wes Anderson is back with The French Dispatch, the latest instalment in his 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, as they scramble to get the final issue over the line.

Structured around the geo­graphy of a print publication, the film is set in the wryly named fictional French city of Ennui-sur-Blasé, a place primed for ­observations such as, “Ennui rises suddenly on a Monday morning”. Despite the dreary connotations of the location, the team at the French Dispatch ensure that dramas unfold on every page.

The stories they are reporting on form vignettes that tell us as much about the writers as the subjects they are covering. These include the eccentric arts critic JKL Berensen; Lucinda Krementz, the investigative journalist with an unwavering stiff upper lip; the enthusiastic travel reporter Herbsaint Sazerac; and food writer Roebuck Wright, who has the gift of both an extraordinary palate and a typographic memory.

Top: Ennui-sur-Blasé metro map by the French Dispatch’s design team led by Erica Dorn; Above: Director Wes Anderson on the set of The French Dispatch, courtesy Searchlight Pictures

The publication at the heart of the film is based on the New Yorker, drawing on real stories and staff members at the magazine. For instance, the editor of the French Dispatch, Bill Murray’s Arthur Howitzer Jr, is moulded on the New ­Yorker’s co-founder and inaugural ­editor-in-chief, Harold Ross, with a touch of his successor William Shawn.

“We wanted each of the writers’ offices (and Howitzer’s too) to say a lot about what sort of people they were,” says Erica Dorn, lead ­graphic designer on the film, who worked closely with production ­designer Adam Stockhausen.