The 2020 movie calendar has been dramatically altered over the last couple weeks, but one film still on the schedule is Wes Anderson’s “The French Dispatch,” opening in July from Searchlight Pictures. Anderson’s latest is his return to live-action filmmaking after the stop-motion “Isle of Dogs” and features a star-studded cast that includes Benicio del Toro, Adrien Brody, Tilda Swinton, Léa Seydoux, Frances McDormand, Timothée Chalamet, and Bill Murray. The film is set at an American newspaper outpost in 20th century France and brings to life three stories the editorial team is selecting to republish in tribute to their late editor-in-chief.
Similar to “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” “The French Dispatch” takes place across different timelines and uses different aspect ratios to keep the different stories organized. Anderson even uses black-and-white photography this go-round to differentiate between stories. Anderson reunited with his Oscar-winning “Grand Budapest” production designer Adam Stockhausen for his new film, and the two created more than 125 different sets for the film.
Stockhausen said he lost count of the exact number of sets because it was such a big total. The crew decided to film in Angoulême, France because it had the right infrastructure to support all of the sets needed for production. The city was also home to a rundown felt factor, which Anderson and his team converted into their own movie studio.
“Outside of town, we found this derelict felt factory, which sounds absurdly appropriate in retrospect but at the time, it seemed perfectly normal like, ‘Yeah! Felt factory!’” Stockhausen said in a statement. “So we took this place over and turned the entire thing DIY style into a movie studio, and we took over the different rooms of it and we made one of them a prop storage and another one became a carpentry mill and another one became the sculpture room, and another one became set dressing, and the three biggest ones became our stages.”
To film the section of “The French Dispatch” that takes place at a prison, Stockhausen turned to a rundown old factory. “We realized that it had the right sort of shell to build the prison out,” he said. “We had a sense what the prison was going to be, but then finding that location totally transformed it and we started to design the cellblock rows and the various different rooms like the craft room and the execution chamber, and all that started to be designed into the location.”
“We were talking about the Orson Welles film “‘The Trial,’” where all the sets were built inside this train station and you can kind of see off the edges of the sets and see the architecture of the train station beyond it,” Stockhausen continued. “That was a driving image for the prison set and you feel the location always. Even if you’re inside a room that we’ve entirely built. We’ve built it with no top and we built the walls out of mesh and you kind of never lose the sort of overarching sense of the space that you’re in.”
One of the big visual inspirations for the film was Albert Lamorisse’s “The Red Balloon.” Stockhausen said Anderson was trying to match that film’s sense of “a beautifully grimy city, really gorgeous, murky stuff on all of the architecture and then these glorious colors that come popping out from that.”
Searchlight is set to release “The French Dispatch” in select theaters beginning July 24.
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