We sometimes like to imagine the private rooms of Wes Anderson: The pastel wallpaper, staid geometry, old knick-knacks and, most of all, the reading material. Works on oceanography accrued for “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou” (2004); the collected works of Stefan Zweig, who inspired “The Grand Budapest Hotel” (2014) and J.D. Salinger, whose work Anderson’s films frequently allude to; and perhaps — like many of us — stacks of New Yorker back issues.
That last option seems especially likely given that Anderson’s forthcoming film “The French Dispatch,” the trailer for which debuted today, uses the famed weekly’s mid-century work as inspiration. The trailer teases a series of segments focused on specific articles, going by the title cards sprinkled throughout, and those tales look like they’ll make what seems to be Anderson’s most Jewish film to date. Yes, even Jew-ier than the ones based on Zweig and Salinger.
Consider the cast of characters in what looks to be one of the film’s main stories,“The Concrete Masterpiece.” Adrien Brody plays dapper art maven Julian Cadazio, based on the Jewish art dealer Lord Duveen, who’s looking to purchase a painting by the imprisoned artist and “rowdiest artistic voice of his lousy generation” Moses Rosenthaler (Benicio Del Toro). Reporting on these developments is J.K.L. Behrenson (Tilda Swinton, whose real life counterpart on the Duveen story was the reporter S.N. Behrman) documents the exchange for the French Dispatch, Anderson’s stand-in for The New Yorker, while Bob Balaban and Henry Winkler tag along.
Bill Murray plays the Dispatch’s founding editor, Great Plains native Arthur Howitzer, Jr., who runs his magazine from a fictional French city he’s mined for other gifted ex-pats. New Yorker co-founders and spouses Harold Ross and Jane Grant — the latter of whom was indeed from the Great Plains — were not Jewish. But most of the stories the film appears to riff on were produced during the tenure of Ross’s legendary successor, the Chicago-born Jew William Shawn. (Sadly, Shawn’s son, the actor and writer Wallace Shawn, is not among the cast.) Among those is “Revisions to a Manifesto,” in which Lucinda Krementz (Frances McDormand) tracks a group of young revolutionaries, led by Zeffirelli (Timothée Chalamet), in new-wave black and white, a segment that The New Yorker reports was inspired by Mavis Gallant’s account of the 1968 Paris uprising, “The Events in May.” Another segment sees Roebuck Wright (Jeffrey Wright), a writer inspired by James Baldwin and the Jewish food writer A.J. Liebling, explore the haute cuisine of “police cooking.” (Baldwin and Liebling were Francophiles, but this story appears to be more or less invented.)
Like most recent Anderson productions, the film looks pristine and delicate as a souffle, even when it takes to the rubble-strewn front lines of the revolution, seedy alleyways or city prisons. This aesthetic purity is well-matched with The New Yorker’s persnickety prose and design. It’s no wonder that, as The New Yorker notes, Anderson has been a “devotee since he was a teen-ager” (note the hyphen!), which was — no coincidence — during Shawn’s leadership.
The movie is expected to arrive in July of this year. In the meantime, you can dig through The New Yorker archives.
PJ Grisar is the Forward’s culture fellow. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org