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Move over Tenenbaums, ‘French Dispatch’ is Wes Anderson’s most Jewish film yet

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(JTA) — Jewishness has been at the fringes of several of Wes Anderson’s movies, but the famed director has never had an explicitly Jewish main character — until now.

In “Rushmore,” one of the non-Jewish director’s breakout works, the lead role is played by Jewish actor Jason Schwartzman, while the Tenenbaums of “The Royal Tenenbaums” is heavily inspired by the (likely) Jewish Glass family members, who show up throughout Jewish author J.D. Salinger’s stories.

Though the Whitmans, another wealthy and disaffected New York clan who feature in “The Darjeeling Limited,” aren’t Jewish, two of the Whitman brothers are played by Jewish actors — Schwartzman and Adrien Brody. Then there was “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” which was based on the writings of Stefan Zweig, a Jewish novelist who fled Europe during the Holocaust.

Anderson’s latest film, “The French Dispatch” — which hits theaters Friday, over a year after its originally planned release date thanks to the pandemic — is his most Jewish work to date.

The movie, openly inspired by Anderson’s nearly lifelong love of The New Yorker magazine, concerns the European outpost of a fictional Kansas-based newspaper, whose American expat writers channel the New Yorker’s highbrow sensibility (often in very humorous fashion). The film is split into four sections, each following a different writer in pursuit of a different story for The French Dispatch of the Liberty, Kansas Evening Sun.

One of the chapters focuses on an explicitly Jewish character. Another features a protagonist loosely based on a Jewish student who helped lead the widespread protests in France in May 1968. And some of Anderson’s imagined journalists throughout the film are based at least in part on real Jewish ones who wrote for The New Yorker.

Taken as a whole, Jewishness and Jewish intellectual history is woven intricately throughout the film, on the fringes no more.

The first of the film’s three larger sections tells the story of Moses Rosenthaler, an incarcerated artistic genius played by Benicio del Toro. His story is narrated by French Dispatch writer J.K.L. Berensen (Tilda Swinton), a character who Anderson told the real New Yorker last month channels the voice of real-life Jewish playwright and journalist SN Behrman.

While narrating a presentation on........

© The Times of Israel

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