You may have heard about or already seen Wes Anderson’s latest offering – The French Dispatch. The small town of Angoulême, nicknamed ‘the balcony of the southwest’, in the Nouvelle Aquitaine was chosen to represent the fictional town of Ennui-sur-Blasé. But why Angoulême?
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Despite Anderson himself residing in Paris, The French Dispatch is the first of his films to be set in France. It is based around a fictional newspaper and follows four different storylines, bringing to life the articles of the newspaper’s last publication. Anderson describes the film as a “love letter to journalists”, however, it could also be described as a love letter to France.
Rather fittingly, Angoulême is France’s cartoonist and graphic arts capital with more than 30 animation studios and many multimedia and digital hubs dotted across the town. However, it was the look and feel of the place that caught the eye of Production designer, Adam Stockhausen.
Stockhausen explained that a Google Earth search eventually led him to Angoulême. Its ancient architecture, white stones, scenic bridges and winding cobbled streets evoke a movie-like version of 1950s France, perfect for the stylistic aesthetic that is synonymous with Wes Anderson’s films. The Old Town is also very well preserved, and it is generally a quiet town, making it perfect for filming.
As well as the architecture of Angoulême, the crew also made use of an old felt factory there, transforming it into a film studio. It was converted to include workshop spaces, drawing rooms and storage facilities.
Naturally, the city government of Angoulême was extremely keen and accommodating. The cast, which includes Christoph Waltz, Bill Murray and Tilda Swinton, stayed in the Hotel Saint Gelais, with Anderson opting for the historical Hôtel de Bardines. The cast and crew reportedly spent somewhere between six and eight million euros in the town during filming! Wes Anderson and his team sourced local wood, paint and rented machinery and cars from local businesses.
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Bill Murray, in particular, apparently fell in love with the Angoulême, opting to stay for a whole week after a single day of shooting.
Angoulême hopes to maximise on its new-found fame as ‘The Wes Anderson City’ in its own unique way. Local cartoonists have released a graphic novel detailing their own experiences with the shoot, while two local businessmen have taken the felt factory used for filming and plan to make it a permanent production facility.