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Wes Anderson: 'Dispatch' celebrates French cinema, journalists

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Wes Anderson: 'Dispatch' celebrates French cinema, journalists
 Wes Anderson's latest film, "The French Dispatch," goes into wide theatrical release Friday. File Photo by Paul Treadway/ UPI | License Photo

NEW YORK, Oct. 28 (UPI) -- Writer-director Wes Anderson says his latest big-screen comedy, The French Dispatch, celebrates French cinema, the New Yorker magazine and journalists everywhere.

"I've spent at least half of my time in France, so I've been wanting to make sort of a French movie," Anderson said during a virtual appearance from Spain at a recent New York Film Festival panel discussion ahead of the movie's theatrical release on Friday.

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"I just wanted to use what I've been experiencing for years as an American living abroad, and then I had this idea of an anthology based around this magazine."

Starring Lea Seydoux, Adrien Brody, Jeffrey Wright, Bob Balaban, Bill Murray, Benicio del Toro and Tilda Swinton, the movie is set in the fictional town of Ennui-Sur-Blase in post-World War II France. It features three vignettes that unfold as the foreign bureau of a fictional Kansas newspaper prepares its final issue after its editor's death.

For the sake of authenticity, the film production's base camp was set up in the small French town of Angouleme.

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Anderson said it perfectly suited the production "as kind of a backlot."

"[Of] all the ideas we had of how to invent our own French city, based on French movies, we found ways to interpret them in this town," Anderson added. "We used half the population of the place in the course of that movie, so it became a big character and a big part of it."

Producer Jeremy Dawson said the production company usually tries to keep everyone together, which limited the shooting geographically.

"We take over a hotel somewhere we can all live, and we hope that everything we are going to shoot is within 480 seconds of that hotel in terms of transportation time," he said.

That means the cast and crew of The French Dispatch shot scenes down the street, in front of their hotel, at the local church and in a nearby plaza.

"We also found a warehouse or an old factory that we built a lot of sets in," Dawson said. "This movie was kind of a hybrid of sets we built and locations we found and locations we found and built things onto."

Seydoux, who plays prison guard Simone, spoke live at the festival, recalling how she auditioned for the film without knowing the plot because she was only given her lines of dialogue to read.

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"Wes loves French cinema," Seydoux said. "We share the same passion."

Addressing Anderson, the French actress said, "You've made an incredible film and it is a love letter to French cinema."

Anderson said he and Jason Schwartzman, a frequent collaborator with whom he shares a story credit here, regarded the three sections of the film as if they were short stories.

"That's quite a different form and has different surprises along the way," Anderson said.

Schwartzman agreed this was a new and fun way to work together.

"Each part of it we worked on [made us] forget the other parts. We were so immersed in it," Schwartzman said.

"I feel like I learn so much," he added, referring to the education in music, literature, history, food and geography he receives when he and Anderson unite for films like this, as well as The Darjeeling Limited, The Fantastic Mr. Fox and Rushmore.

Brody, who also appeared in The Darjeeling Limited, as well as Anderson's The Grand Budapest Hotel, plays Julien, a character based on real-life art dealer Lord Duveen in The French Dispatch.

"Duveen is remarkable. He essentially created so much of the art world and managed to inspire some of the greatest industrialists and incredibly wealthy people to have the preeminent art collections," noted Brody, who also appeared virtually from Spain with Anderson, Dawson and Schwartzman.

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"I grew up in New York, and [Julien's] kind of an amalgamation of a lot of stuff and influences and characters and gallerists and dealers that I've encountered," Brody added.

Wright, appearing in New York at the festival, said he fell in love with "the language of this story and the beauty of it and the poetry and the music" of Anderson's screenplay.

"I just couldn't get it out of my head," Wright said.

He acknowledged his food writer character Roebuck is a "Frankenstenian mix" of author James Baldwin, playwright Tennessee Williams, talk-show host Dick Cavett and reporter A.J. Liebling.

"I was trying to justify who this guy was and, so, Baldwin was really a great window onto that in terms of him being an ex-pat in France," Wright said. "I wanted to understand how it was that this man at that time -- a Black man, a gay man, an American -- winds up there."

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