THE FRENCH DISPATCH*CUT TO THE CHASE*
NOTE: This spoiler was submitted by Jeremy
The film starts with a narrator (Anjelica Huston) discussing how Arthur Howitzer Jr (Bill Murray) established the magazine publication, “The French Dispatch of the Liberty, Kansas Evening Sun” from the French town of Ennui-sur-Blase. Howitzer has a number of people working for him, such as cartoonist Hermes Jones (Jason Schwartzman), and copy editor Alumna (Elisabeth Moss). As Howitzer knows he is going to die soon, he has decided that the next issue of The French Dispatch will be its last, and publication will cease after his death.
The following stories are articles from the Dispatch’s last issue:
“The Cycling Reporter” (Local Color Section) – by Herbsaint Sazerac
One writer for the Dispatch, Herbsaint Sazerac (Owen Wilson), writes about life in Ennui, noting a ton of rats, cats, and crime running rampant in the area. He goes about his travels in town on a bicycle as he takes readers (or viewers) on a trip across the town. Howitzer looks over the report and doesn’t think Sazerac should mention the bad and the dirty things that go on in Ennui.
Story #1 – The Concrete Masterpiece (Arts and Artists) – by J.K.L. Berensen
J.K.L. Berensen (Tilda Swinton) delivers a presentation to an audience regarding imprisoned artist Moses Rosenthaler (Benicio Del Toro). Moses is seen painting his muse, a guard named Simone (Lea Seydoux). Berensen notes that Moses came from terrible beginnings in his youth (played by Tony Revolori), culminating in a life of crime that ended with him murdering two bartenders gruesomely. In prison, he has a sexual relationship with Simone, but while he says he loves her, she insists she doesn’t feel the same way. Moses is also suicidal, as he admits to drinking mouthwash for the hope that it’ll someday poison him.
Another inmate, Julian Cadazio (Adrien Brody), takes great interest in Moses’s work. He is most fond of an abstract painting he made of Simone. Despite Moses’s objections, Cadazio convinces him (with help from Simone) to sell him the painting for actual currency.
Three years later, Cadazio is released from prison and talks to his art exhibitor uncles, Nick (Bob Balaban) and Joe (Henry Winkler), about putting Moses’s work on display. Besides the Simone painting, Moses does a simple napkin drawing of a turkey, which sells for a crazy amount of money, and soon, Moses becomes a sensation in the art world. Cadazio then gets his aunt, Maw Clampette (Lois Smith), to help fund an art exhibit in the prison for Moses.
At the exhibit, Cadazio is dismayed to find that Moses has painted his work into the walls of the building, meaning they can’t be taken away. Cadazio insults Moses until the man begins chasing him around in a wheelchair. Before any real chaos can ensue, Cadazio relents and accepts the paintings as they are, and he has them airlifted to a museum outside of Ennui.
For his part in stopping a potentially worse prison riot, Moses is released early on probation. Berensen notes in her closing narration that Simone was reunited with a daughter she gave up as a baby, and they stayed together. Simone maintained a correspondence with Moses until the end of his life.
Story #2 – Revisions to a Manifesto (Politics and Poetry) – by Lucinda Krementz
Lucinda Krementz (Frances McDormand) pens a story about student revolutionaries, led by chess player Zeffirelli (Timothée Chalamet). She meets with his parents (Cecile De France and Guillaume Gallienne), who live in a part of town that is being tear-gassed due to an ongoing violent dispute. She goes to the bathroom and is startled by Zeffirelli in the bathtub, writing his manifesto. Lucinda leaves with him and goes back to her apartment where she has sex with him and makes critiques to his manifesto. Zeffirelli’s parents are also later seen meeting with an art collector, Paul Duval (Christoph Waltz).
Zeffirelli later meets with the other student revolutionaries, who are having a heated discussion about the ongoing battle in the streets, with some of their friends being deserters. One of the students, Mitch-Mitch (Mohamed Belhadjine), steps forward to give his point-of-view. Lucinda’s narration brings up a play that Mitch-Mitch made that pokes fun at Zeffirelli while also highlighting the other issues with the fight.
Over the next few months, Lucinda observes the students as they plan their protests and activities, culminating in a march on the streets. Zeffirelli is confronted by Juliette (Lyna Khoudri), who chastises him over his affair with Lucinda and her work on his manifesto, referring to her as an “old maid”. Zeffirelli quells the tension between the two just as violence begins to break out in the streets. Lucinda tells Zeffirelli and Juliette to flee and enjoy their youth before she gets away.
Zeffirelli and Juliette begin a romantic relationship. During a storm, Zeffirelli climbs the electrical tower to fix it, only to be electrocuted and fall into the river where he drowns. He soon becomes a revolutionary icon, with many young boys copying his hairstyle and wardrobe.
Story #3 – The Private Dining Room of the Police Commissioner (Sights and Smells) – by Roebuck Wright
Food journalist Roebuck Wright (Jeffrey Wright) is in a television interview with a talk show host (Liev Schrieber). He recounts an incident where he found himself in jail for being with another man. He befriended another inmate, Albert the Abacus (Willem Dafoe), who is an accountant for criminals.
Following his release, Roebuck met with The Commissaire (Mathieu Amalric) for dinner, which was being prepared by the mysterious and legendary detective/chef Nescaffier (Stephen Park). The dinner is interrupted when the Commissaire’s son Gigi (Winston Ait Hellal), is kidnapped by a group of criminals led by The Chauffeur (Edward Norton), who calls and demands a ransom for Gigi’s return.
Gigi is kept in a closet watched over by other groups of local crooks. The leader of a showgirl gang (Saoirse Ronan) keeps him reluctant company, as he tries to befriend her and doesn’t think she is that bad. Meanwhile, he begins sending a message in morse code, which is one of his unusual interests.
The message is intercepted, which is read as “Send the cook”, meaning Nescaffier. Roebuck becomes involved with a plan where Nescaffier is sent after preparing food for the criminals and Gigi, but he has specifically laced the radishes with poison, knowing that Gigi utterly despises that food. Nescaffier is ordered to eat the food first, and he does, so the other criminals eat it and die from the poison, but Nescaffier is saved. Unfortunately, The Chauffeur hates radishes too and he takes Gigi away. This leads to a wild car chase through the streets, ending with Gigi jumping to his father’s car while The Chauffeur crashes off a ledge to his demise.
After writing the story, Roebuck is approached by Howitzer, who noticed that he crumpled up a piece of the article that Roebuck left out because he felt it was too sad. Howitzer asks what it said, and Roebuck shows him. He recalled something that Nescaffier told him, that the poison in the food tasted unlike any other food that he had prepared, and it overwhelmed him emotionally. Howitzer asks for it to stay in the article.
The staff gathers in Howitzer’s office after his death (he is laying freshly dead on the desk before being covered up). Alumna begins to cry before being reminded that Howitzer didn’t like people crying in his office. They take a moment to mourn the man before coming up with preparations for the farewell issue and his obituary.
The French Dispatch of the Liberty, Kansas Evening Sun is a magazine publication that is set to publish its final issue following the death of its editor-in-chief, Arthur Howitzer Jr. The film is a depiction of the articles presented in the issue.
The first story is about imprisoned artist Moses Rosenthaler, who is mentally disturbed but gifted with a paintbrush. He is in a sexual relationship with a guard, Simone, who is also his muse. An art dealer/inmate, Julian Cadazio, likes Moses's work and gets him to become famous in the art world outside of prison. After Moses is freed from prison, he maintains contact with Simone until his death.
The second story follows journalist Lucinda Krementz documenting a group of student revolutionaries, led by a young man named Zeffirelli. After Lucinda convinces Zeffirelli and a young woman named Juliette to enjoy their youth instead of being involved in violent conflicts, the two start a relationship that ends when Zeffirelli is electrocuted to death, but he becomes an icon of the revolution.
The third story is from a journalist named Roebuck Wright, who became involved in a rescue operation when the police commissioner's son Gigi is kidnapped by criminals. They send the commissioner's chef, a highly skilled former detective named Nescaffier, to prepare a poison for the criminals to eat before rescuing Gigi. After a wild car chase, the boy is rescued and the criminals are killed.
The Dispatch's staff mourns Howitzer and prepares the final issue.