Go Behind the Scenes of Wes Anderson’s New Film, The French Dispatch

Fans of Wes Anderson know that, if you keep your eyes peeled and your imagination open, you can find pieces of his colorful, fantastical onscreen universe in everyday life. The Oscar nominee’s latest film, The French Dispatch, is proof of this: It was shot on location in Angoulême, France, where the topography and architecture was camera-ready to stand in for the quirky fictional French town of Ennui-sur-Blasé.

Production designer Adam Stockhausen and his team first embarked on what he calls “Google scouting,” to find the perfect location. “We just sort of go to Google Maps and drop the little yellow guy and start walking the streets and looking around,” he tells AD. “We looked all over, and then kind of started to narrow that down into a list of different towns that looked promising.” Scouts were then sent to take pictures and, after Stockhausen and his team visited a shortlist of places, they settled on Angoulême, a city known for its annual comic book festival that sits on a plateau about five hours southwest of Paris and two hours northeast of Bordeaux.

“We had such tremendous access, it was really incredible,” says Stockhausen of shooting in Angoulême. This scene was built in a parking lot, and it depicts the backside of the French Dispatch office.

Courtesy of Searchlight

For reasons that may very well have made it unusable for another director, Angoulême was perfect for Anderson’s story about The French Dispatch of the Liberty, Kansas Evening Sun, a magazine started by a Kansas-born expatriate named Arthur Howitzer, Jr. (played by Bill Murray) that publishes long-form news and culture stories and is loosely based on The New Yorker. “There’s this road that wraps around, and around, and around as it goes [uphill], and then these roads that crisscross that. It makes for these really incredible nooks and crannies, and twists and turns, which Wes was exploiting constantly,” Stockhausen says.

The film is comprised of four vignettes, each telling a story from what is to be the last-ever issue of The French Dispatch. First is a travelogue highlighting the underbelly of Ennui-sur-Blasé by cycling reporter Herbsaint Sazerac (played by Owen Wilson.) Next, a story by J.K.L. Berensen (Tilda Swinton) about the life of Moses Rosenthaler (Benicio del Toro and Tony Revolori), an incarcerated painter who is discovered by a fellow inmate and art dealer played by Adrien Brody. The artist Sandro Kopp, Swinton’s partner, created Rosenthaler’s abstract paintings, including a series of large frescoes he paints on the prison walls. Kopp called the experience “the most challenging and also the most satisfying thing I have done in my life so far. I arrived in Angoulême knowing that I had two-and-a-half months to create 10 massive paintings that had to look like a genius had worked on them for three years.” Pieces of local culture also made it into the prison scenery: Artisanal pottery was used as props for an inmate art class, and the prisoners padded around in the felt slippers, or Charentaises, traditionally made in the area.

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