The French Dispatch (2021) | Transcript

A love letter to journalists set in an outpost of an American newspaper in a fictional twentieth century French city that brings to life a collection of stories published in "The French Dispatch Magazine".
The French Dispatch

(MACHINE WHIRRING)

(TYPEWRITER CLACKING)

(CLOCK TICKING)

(BELL TOLLING)

(HORN HONKS)

(BICYCLE BELL RINGS)

FEMALE NARRATOR: It began as a holiday.

Arthur Howitzer, Jr., college freshman, eager to escape a bright future on the Great Plains, convinced his father, proprietor of the Liberty, Kansas Evening Sun, to fund his transatlantic passage as an educational opportunity to learn the family business through the production of a series of travelogue columns to be published for local readers in the Sunday Picnic magazine.

(KIDS CHATTERING AND LAUGHING)

(SHOOING IN FRENCH)

(KIDS YELLING)

FEMALE NARRATOR: Over the next ten years, he assembled a team of the best expatriate journalists of his time and transformed Picnic into The French Dispatch, a factual weekly report on the subjects of world politics, the arts, high and low, fashion, fancy cuisine, fine drink, and diverse stories of human interests set in faraway quartiers.

He brought the world to Kansas.

(BELL TINKLES)

His writers line the spines of every good American library.

Berensen, Sazerac, Krementz, Roebuck Wright.

One reporter known as the best living writer in quality of sentences per minute.

One who never completed a single article, but haunted the halls cheerily for three decades.

One privately blind writer who wrote keenly through the eyes of others.

(WOMAN SPEAKING INDISTINCTLY)

FEMALE NARRATOR: The uncontested crackerjack of grammatical expertise.

Cover illustrations by Hermès Jones.

Famously gracious with his writers, Arthur Jr. was less courteous with the rest of the magazine’s staff.

ARTHUR: Oh, no, what’s that?

I need a turkey.

Stuffed and roasted on a table with all the trimmings and pilgrims!

FEMALE NARRATOR: His fiscal management system was convoluted but functional.

ARTHUR: Give her 150 francs a week for the next 15 years against five American cents per word, minus expenses.

FEMALE NARRATOR: His most repeated literary advice, perhaps apocryphal, was simply this…

ARTHUR: Just try to make it sound like you wrote it that way on purpose.

FEMALE NARRATOR: His return to Liberty comes precisely 50 years after his departure, on the occasion of his funeral, by which time the magazine’s circulation exceeds half a million subscribers in 50 countries.

A willow hamper containing umpteen pins, plaques, and official citations of the highest order is buried at his side, along with an Andretti Ribbon-mate and a ream of triple bond, Egyptian cotton typing stock.

He received an Editor’s burial.

In his will, he stipulated that immediately upon his death, quote…

ARTHUR: (ON SPEAKERS) The presses will be dismantled and liquefied.

The editorial offices will be vacated and sold.

The staff will be paid ample bonuses and released from their contracts, and the publication of the magazine will permanently cease.

FEMALE NARRATOR: Thus, the publisher’s obituary will also serve as that of this publication.

All home delivery readers will, of course, be refunded, pro rata for the unfulfilled portion of their subscriptions.

His epitaph will be taken verbatim from the stenciled shingle fixed above the door of his inner office.

Berensen’s article. The Concrete Masterpiece.

Three dangling participles, two split infinitives and nine spelling errors in the first sentence alone.

ARTHUR: Some of those are intentional.

(MEN MURMURING)

ALUMNA: The Krementz story, Revisions to a Manifesto.

We asked for 2,500 words, and she came in at 14,000, plus footnotes, endnotes, a glossary, and two epilogues.

ARTHUR: It’s one of her best.

(MEN MURMURING)

Sazerac?

Impossible to fact-check.

He changes all the names and only writes about hobos, pimps, and junkies.

ARTHUR: These are his people.

(MEN MURMURING)

How about Roebuck Wright?

His door’s locked, but I could hear the keys clacking.

ARTHUR: Don’t rush him.

(MEN MURMURING)

The question is, who gets killed?

There’s one piece too many even if we print another double-issue, which we can’t afford under any circumstances.

(MEN MURMURING)

(KNOCK AT DOOR)

(DOOR OPENS)

A message from the foreman. One hour to press.

You’re fired.

(WHIMPERING) Really?

Don’t cry in my office.

Shrink the masthead, cut some ads, and tell the foreman to buy more paper.

I’m not killing anybody.

(ALL MURMURING)

FEMALE NARRATOR: Good writers. He coddled them.

He coaxed them. He ferociously protected them.

What do you think?

WAITER: For myself?

I would start with Mr. Sazerac.

FEMALE NARRATOR: These were his people.

(BICYCLE BELL RINGS)

(BICYCLE WHEELS WHIRRING)

(TYPEWRITER CLACKING)

SAZERAC: Ennui rises suddenly on a Monday.

(DOG BARKS)

(INDISTINCT CHATTER)

(MUSIC PLAYING)

Through the time machine of poetic license, let us take a sight-seeing tour.

A day in Ennui over the course of 250 years.

The great city began as a cluster of tradesmen’s villages.

(RINGS BICYCLE BELL)

Only the names remain unchanged.

The Bootblack District.

The Bricklayer’s Quarter.

(MUFFLED MUSIC PLAYING)

The Butcher’s Arcade.

Pick-pocket Cul-de-Sac.

(MEN SHOUTING IN DISTANCE)

On this site, a fabled market, vending all forms of victuals and comestibles under a single vast, glass-and-cast-iron canopy, later demolished, as you can see, in favor of a multi-level shopping center and parking structure.

Like every living city, Ennui supports a menagerie of vermin and scavengers.

(TRAIN BRAKES)

(RINGS BICYCLE BELL)

The rats which colonized its subterranean railroad.

(RATS SQUEAKING)

(CATS YOWLING)

The cats which colonized its slanty rooftops.

The anguillettes which colonized its shallow drainage canals.

After receiving the Host, marauding choirboys, half-drunk on the Blood of Christ, stalk unwary pensioners and seek havoc.

(KIDS YELLING)

In the Flop Quarter, students.

Hungry, restless, reckless.

In the Hovel District, old people.

Old people who have failed.

The automobile.

A mixed blessing. On the one hand, the honking, skidding, speeding, sputtering, and backfiring.

The emission of toxic fumes and filthy exhaust-pollution, the dangerous accidents, the constant traffic, the high…

Fuck! (YELLS)

Department of Local Statistics.

Average rainfall, 750 millimeters.

Average snowfall, 190,000 flakes.

Eight-point-two-five bodies are pulled from the Blasé river each week.

A figure which remains consistent despite population growth and advances in health and hygiene.

As the sun sets, a medley of unregistered streetwalkers and gigolos replaces the day’s delivery boys and shopkeepers, and an air of promiscuous calm saturates the hour.

What sounds will punctuate the night?

(GUNSHOT)

(WOMAN SCREAMS)

And what mysteries will they foretell?

(KIDS YELLING)

Perhaps the doubtful old maxim speaks true.

(CLANGING)

(SAZERAC GRUNTS)

SAZERAC: All grand beauties withhold their deepest secrets.

(SHIP HORN BLOWS)

“Rats, vermin, gigolos, streetwalkers.”

You don’t think it’s almost too seedy this time?

No, I don’t.

For decent people.

It’s supposed to be charming.

“Pick-pockets, dead bodies, prisons, urinals…”

You don’t want to add a flower shop or an art museum?

No, I don’t.

A pretty place of some kind?

I hate flowers.

You could cut the second half of the second paragraph, by the way.

You already repeat it later.

Okay.

(BELL RINGS)

(FOOTSTEPS APPROACHING)

(TYPEWRITER CLACKING)

(PAINTBRUSH SCRAPING)

(PAINTBRUSH SCRAPING)

(BONES CRACKING)

(SOFT PIANO MUSIC PLAYING)

(BONES CRACK)

(GRUNTS SOFTLY)

(PAINTBRUSH CLATTERS)

(SHOOS)

(PAINTBRUSH SCRAPING)

(BELL RINGS)

(CHAIN CLINKING)

(SNAPS FINGERS)

(LOCK CLICKS)

BERENSEN: We take as the subject of tonight’s lecture, the great painter at the vanguard and heart of the French Splatter-school Action-group,

Mr. Moses Rosenthaler.

Widely celebrated, as you know, for the bold dramatic style, and colossal scale of his middle-period, in particular, of course, the polyptych-tableaux known as…

Ten Reinforced Cement Aggregate Load-Bearing Murals.

He remains, in my opinion, the most eloquent and certainly, the loudest artistic voice of his rowdy generation.

How does this pivotal piece come to find its way into its unique position as a permanent installation here at the Clampette Collection?

The story begins in a mess hall.

(BELL RINGS)

The exhibition, Ashtrays, Pots, and Macramé, a group show of handicrafts by amateur artisans incarcerated in the lunatic section of the Ennui Prison-Asylum, might, perhaps, have been omitted from the annals of art history, had it not been for the inclusion in its number of a small painting by Mr. Rosenthaler, who was, at that time, serving a 50-year sentence for the crime of double homicide, and the observation of that work by a fellow inmate, the Levantine art dealer Mr. Julian Cadazio, who, by fateful coincidence, happened to be imprisoned in the adjoining annex on a charge of second-degree sales tax evasion.

Guard.

Who painted this picture?

GUARD: Citizen 7524.

I believe that unit designates maximum security for the demented and deranged.

Are you able to provide me an escort and a Friendly Visit Stamp for immediate use?

(GUARD CHEWING LOUDLY)

Simone, Naked. Cell Block J. Hobby Room.

I wanna buy it.

Why?

Because I like it.

It’s not for sale.

Yes, it is.

No, it isn’t.

Yes, it is.

No, it isn’t.

Yes, it is.

No, it isn’t.

It is, yes. It is.

All artists sell all their work. It’s what makes you an artist.

Selling it. If you don’t wish to sell it, don’t paint it.

Question is, what’s your price?

50 cigarettes.

Actually, make it 75.

Why do you keep looking at that guard?

She’s Simone.

Ah.

I don’t want to buy this important piece for 50 cigarettes.

ROSENTHALER: 75.

Or 75 of prison currency.

I want to pay you 250,000 francs in legal French tender.

Do we agree on the sale?

Uh-huh.

I can only offer a deposit of, uh… 83 centimes, one candied chestnut, and four cigarettes.

Everything I have at this present moment in time.

However, if you’ll accept my signatory voucher, I assure you a check for the outstanding balance will be remitted to your account within 90 days.

Where do you bank?

Never mind.

(SPITS)

How’d you learn to do it, by the way?

Paint this kind of picture.

Also, who’d you murder, and how crazy are you, really?

I need background information so that we can do a book about you.

It makes you more important.

Who are you…

Moses Rosenthaler?

Born rich, the son of a Jewish-Mexican horse rancher, Miguel Sebastian Maria Moisés de Rosenthaler

trained at the École des Antiquités at significant family expense.

But, by the end of his youth, he had shed all the luxuries of his comfortable background and replaced them with…

Squalor.

(OLD-TIMEY SONG PLAYING)

Hunger.

Loneliness.

Physical danger.

(GUNS FIRING)

Mental illness.

And, of course…

(CLATTERING)

(INDISTINCT CHATTER)

Criminal violence.

(CHATTERING IN FRENCH)

(GLASS RATTLES)

(MEN QUARELLING)

(GROWLING)

(PUNCHES LANDING)

(MAN SCREAMS)

(BLADE SLASHING)

(MAN SCREAMS)

BERENSEN: He did not pick up a brush during the first decade of his long prison sentence.

(GATE OPENS)

(GATE OPENS)

(BELL RINGS)

ROSENTHALER: Permission to sign up for activity privileges, gardienne.

(SPEAKING FRENCH)

ROSENTHALER: (IN ENGLISH) This thing?

(SPEAKING FRENCH)

(IN ENGLISH) Citizen 7524, address the class.

ROSENTHALER: What do you mean?

Tell the group about yourself.

I don’t wanna do that.

It’s mandatory.

They know me already.

That’s not the point.

I haven’t even prepared a speech.

Say something.

Well, I’ve been here 3,647 days and nights.

Another 14,603 to go.

I drink 14 pints of mouthwash rations per week.

At that rate, I think I’m going to poison myself to death before I ever get to see the world again, which makes me feel very sad.

I gotta change my program.

I gotta go in a new direction.

Anything I can do to keep my hands busy, I’m gonna do.

Otherwise, I think maybe it’s gonna be a suicide.

And that’s why I signed up for clay pottery and basket weaving.

My name is Moses.

Take a pew.

(BONES CRUNCH)

(MAN GROANS)

What’s your name, gardienne?

(MOUTHING) Simone.

BERENSEN: Certain women do gravitate toward incarcerated men.

It’s a recognized condition.

Something about the captivity of others enhances the experience of their own freedom.

I assure you, it’s erotic.

Look at her, by the way. Born into quasi-serfdom, 16 brothers and sisters. Illiterate until she was 20.

Now, a woman of considerable property.

Radiant.

(AUDIENCE GASPS)

Good God.

Wrong slide. That’s me.

Simone, of course, refused all Rosenthaler’s entreaties of marriage, which, we are told, were frequent and marvelously enthusiastic.

ROSENTHALER: I wanna say it as simple as I can.

To try to shape it into words.

The feelings in my heart.

SIMONE: I don’t love you.

I love you.

What?

I don’t love you.

Already?

Already what?

Already how do you know that?

How can you be sure? It’s so quick.

I’m sure.

Ouch.

That hurts me.

The cruelty of it. The cold-bloodedness.

You said what you wanted to say. I tried to stop you. That’s it.

I said part of what I wanted to say.

I was in the middle of it. There’s more.

No.

No what? Will you…

No.

Will you marry me?

No.

(SPEAKING FRENCH)

(SOFT PIANO MUSIC PLAYING)

(SWITCH CLICKS)

I’m gonna need art supplies.

Canvas, stretchers, brushes, turpentine.

What do you want to paint?

The future.

Which is you.

Widely not considered a great connoisseur, Julian Cadazio, nevertheless, had an eye for something, and he did us all a very good turn when the hour he was released from prison…

(CLOCK TICKING)

We’re done with flowers and fruit bowls.

We’re finished with beaches and seascapes.

We’re getting out of armor, rugs, and tapestries, too.

I found something new.

Modern art?

Modern art. Our specialty, starting now.

I don’t get it.

Of course you don’t.

Am I too old?

Of course you are.

Why is this good?

It isn’t good. Wrong idea.

That’s no answer.

My point. You see the girl in it?

BOTH: No.

Trust me, she’s there.

One way to tell if a modern artist actually knows what he’s doing is to get him to paint you a horse or a flower or a sinking battleship, or something that’s actually supposed to look like the thing that it’s actually supposed to look like.

Can he do it? Look at this.

Drawn in 45 seconds right in front of me with a burnt matchstick.

A perfect sparrow. That’s excellent.

May I keep it?

Don’t be stupid. Of course not.

The point is, he could paint this beautifully if he wanted, but he thinks this is better.

And I think I sort of agree with him.

Simone, Naked. Cell Block J. Hobby Room is probably a masterpiece worth a significant, even exorbitant, sum of money.

But not yet.

Hmm. The desire must be created.

JULIAN: Mmm.

How long is he in for?

(CHAIN CLINKING)

CHIEF MAGISTRATE: Mr. Rosenthaler, why should we put you back on the street?

Because it was an accident, Your Honor.

I didn’t intend to kill anybody.

You decapitated two bartenders with a meat saw.

(WHISPERING INDISTINCTLY)

ROSENTHALER: The first bartender was an accident.

The second one was self-defense.

Well, be that as it may, what demonstration of genuine remorse, or, at the very least, regret can you offer for beheading these men?

They had it coming.

I beg your pardon?

Forgive me. Uh…

Is there a part of this ritual where you ask if anybody has something to say before it’s too late?

Like, at a wedding.

No.

I’ll be brief.

We all know this man is a murderer.

Totally guilty of first-degree homicide, any way you slice it.

That’s a given.

However, he’s also that rare once-in-a-generation guy that you hear about, but never get the chance to discover for yourself.

An artistic genius.

Surely, there ought to be a double standard for this sort of predicament.

Supposedly, he’s a psychotic, by the way.

That’s not his fault.

Respectfully, I submit…

maybe we could think up some other way to punish him?

BERENSEN: Rosenthaler’s right to petition for parole was permanently revoked

for the duration of his sentence.

(POPS LIPS) No further questions.

Nevertheless, Cadazio and his uncles were unanimous in their decision to promote the artist as his exclusive brokers throughout the free world.

Simone travelled far and wide.

The Ennui Salon.

The Royal Exposition.

The International Pavilion at the Liberty, Kansas State Fair, which was very nearly burned to the ground.

In short, the picture was a sensation.

(PEOPLE CLAMORING)

(AUCTIONEER GAVEL BANGING)

Even the artist’s all but forgotten earlier work inspired wildly robust sales on the secondary market.

Meanwhile, Rosenthaler continued to work in confinement.

Strikingly, the artist favored raw materials sourced exclusively from within the prison-asylum domain.

Powdered eggs.

Pigeon blood.

Shackle grease.

Coal, cork, and dung.

Fire, of course.

Bright yellow scullery soap.

And fresh cream of millet as a binding agent.

Simone liked to stand still.

Indeed, she was Olympian in her ability to hold extremely challenging positions for extended periods of time.

She exhibited very little vulnerability to extremes of heat or cold.

After even the most adverse forms of exposure, her skin remained unburned, unblemished, un-goose-pimpled.

Another tidbit.

She genuinely enjoyed the smell of turpentine and in later years actually wore it in the application of her toilet.

She was more than a muse.

(KEYS JINGLE)

ROSENTHALER: Throw the switch.

(FOOTSTEPS APPROACHING)

Throw the switch, you cocksucker.

What’s wrong with you? Go back to work.

I can’t.

I won’t. It’s too hard.

It’s torture.

I’m literally a tortured artist.

Poor baby.

Get out.

(DOOR CLOSES)

(ELECTRICITY CRACKLING)

(GROANS)

(GRUNTS)

Is that what you want?

(SPEAKING FRENCH)

(IN ENGLISH) What’s your problem?

I don’t know what to paint.

(SPEAKING FRENCH)

(SNAPS FINGERS)

(SWITCH CLICKS)

(RATTLES)

The French Splatter-school Action-group.

A dynamic, talented, lusty, slovenly, alcoholic, violent pack of creative savages.

They inspired and very often personally attacked each other for two decades and more.

I’ll have my drink now.

(BOTTLE CLINKS)

Remember, in those days, as you know, it was much more socially acceptable for a painter or a sculptor to hit another fellow with a chair or even a brick or walk around with a black eye or a broken tooth and so on.

Indeed, I’m jumping ahead, but in my own experience, Rosenthaler could be quite unpredictably impulsive.

Uh, meaning, I refer to the, uh, pigment locker beneath his studio in the Boulevard des Plombiers, on one occasion, he grabbed me and put me in there, and inappropriately, sort of, tried to fuck me against the wall in the corner of that pigment locker.

He was crazy. Officially certified.

The Cadazios, of course, represented them all.

It’s three years later.

We’ve made you the most famous painter alive based on one small, scribbly, overrated picture.

You’re an art school course.

You’re an encyclopedia entry.

Even your disciples have won and squandered multiple fortunes, yet you refuse to show us so much as a sketch or a study for a single new piece during this entire, protracted period.

How long are we meant to wait?

Well, don’t answer, because we’re not asking.

We already printed the invitations.

We’re coming in.

All of us. The collectors. The critics.

Even your second-rate imitators we represent who suck up to you and smuggle you goodies and probably turn out to be better than you are.

The bribes alone are going to be outrageous, as these guards can assure you.

But we’re gonna pay ’em.

So, finish it, whatever it is.

The show is in two weeks.

(GROWLING)

She thinks it’s ready, by the way.

It’s ready.

I could use another year.

(YELLS IN FRUSTRATION)

My employer, at that time, received the intriguing summons by rapid-priority wire.

I refer, of course, to Upshur “Maw” Clampette.

Astute collector of antiquities.

Great friend to the avant-garde.

Her collection, even in its infancy, was well-known and important, as was her residence, Ingo Steen’s first American commission informally known as the Doorstop House.

It was my duty, and I may say, my privilege to catalogue, archive, and advise, although she did whatever the hell she wanted, no matter what you told her, anyway.

Thus, we began the long journey from Liberty to Ennui.

JULIAN: My dear Mrs. Clampette, Maw, if I may, please join us for the first display of Mr. Moses Rosenthaler’s extremely exciting new work, which I, myself, have not yet been permitted to see.

In order to facilitate the viewing in a timely fashion, it may prove necessary for us to surreptitiously gain access to the facility where the artist currently resides.

Please rely on my operatives to organize any and all details and preparations for your visit.

Caution, do not bring matches, lighters, or sharp objects of any kind.

We await your confirmation with cheerful anticipation.

Yours most truly, Cadazio Uncles and Nephew Galerie concern.

BERENSEN: The paddy wagon collected us directly after the night’s final round of working girls and revelers were delivered to the drunk tank at 3:00 a.m.

(SWITCH CLICKS)

JULIAN: Moses, are you here?

ROSENTHALER: Mmm-hmm.

JULIAN: Any words of introduction?

Or perhaps, a welcome to our wonderful guests, some of whom have traveled a great distance to come see your work, I hope?

Or, alternatively, just, I don’t know.

Hello?

(FINGERS SNAP)

(GASPS) Quiet, please!

Quiet, please!

I did it. It’s good! This is historic.

Open the champagne! I did it.

Music!

(PLAYING UPBEAT MUSIC)

(CORK POPS)

Why are you sitting in a wheelchair like an invalid?

You should be dancing on the tables! It’s a triumph!

(SPEAKING FRENCH)

(IN ENGLISH) Do you like it?

Do I like it?

Yes.

(WOMAN SPEAKING FRENCH)

(IN ENGLISH) Look at Maw, she’s mesmerized.

This here’s a fresco, t’weren’t it?

Precisely. He’s a Renaissance master of the highest order.

He mines the same vein as Piperno Pierluigi when he illuminated The Christ Before God’s Heavenly Altar in 1565.

Maw, nobody has an eye for things nobody has ever seen like Maw Clampette of Liberty, Kansas.

We should be ashamed to even gather in her presence.

Why the fuck did she say fresco?

(GLASS CLATTERS)

Are they painted into the walls?

Oh, no. What has he done?

You fucking asshole.

Are you seeing this? Look at this!

Well, I think it’s utterly wonderful.

It’s crucial!

It’s probably a turning point in the evolution of human pictography.

Scratched and plastered into a reinforced cement aggregate gymnasium.

He even painted onto the radiators!

Maybe one of them restoration fellers out at the Fondazione dell’Arte Classico could figure a way to rustle them pictures loose.

We’re in a maximum-security prison, Maw.

It’s federal property.

Even to begin the bureaucratic nightmare would require years of negotiation with a team of highly-paid, arrogant, obnoxious advocates.

I don’t even know how you’d peel them off. It’s a fresco.

Hey! It’s a fresco!

So what?

Can you even begin to fathom the shit-ton of money my uncles and I have squandered to get to this point of no return?

Look at them!

You’ve ruined us!

Does it mean nothing to you?

I thought you liked it.

I think it stinks!

(SHATTERS)

Get out of that wheelchair!

I’m going to kick your ass up and down this hobby room!

(GROWLING)

Don’t growl at me, you convicted murderer.

You homicidal, suicidal, psychopathic, no-talent drunk!

(MUSIC CONTINUES)

(SCREAMS)

(ROSENTHALER GRUNTS)

(CRASHING)

Why didn’t you tell me, gardienne?

Because you would’ve stopped him.

We have to accept it.

His need to fail is more powerful than our strongest desires to help him succeed.

I give up. He’s defeated us.

He’s defeated us.

Sad, but there it is.

Anyway, at least, he finished the motherfucker.

It is, perhaps, the most interesting contemplation of peripheral vision I’ve ever seen.

Well done, Moses.

Well done, Moses. This has a greatness to it.

If you plastered it deep enough, it may last.

We’ll come and see it again one day.

God willing.

You’ll already still be here, of course.

It’s all Simone.

(SOFT PIANO MUSIC PLAYING)

BERENSEN: At that moment, they were both aware of Simone’s intention to leave her position at the Ennui Prison-Asylum the following day, endowed with funds provided by the Cadazios as compensation for her work as Rosenthaler’s model and muse.

She was reunited with the estranged child to whom she had given birth in her youth, and the two never again lived apart.

She and Rosenthaler maintained a regular correspondence for the rest of the artist’s life.

Mrs. Clampette would like to put the piece on hold.

The half-sticker?

Yes, please.

Should she choose to finalize the sale, will this amount be acceptable to you and your uncles?

Can we get a deposit?

Maw? An advance against the total sum?

Tell them stingy Frenchmen I ain’t making no promises.

BERENSEN: Ten Reinforced Cement Aggregate Load-Bearing Murals was to remain on hold under the name Upshur Clampette for the subsequent 20 years.

MAN: Monsieur Cadazio?

(SPEAKING FRENCH)

(IN ENGLISH) Which prisoners?

(SPEAKING FRENCH)

JULIAN: (IN ENGLISH) Tell them we don’t bribe rapists and pickpockets. It’s unethical.

Besides, I didn’t bring an additional 6,000,000 francs in small bills.

How’d you get out there?

What do we do?

Lock the door.

(PRISONERS YELLING)

BERENSEN: In the aftermath, 72 prisoners and six members of the French Splatter-school lay dead or mortally wounded.

Moses Rosenthaler, for acts of extreme valor, which saved the lives of nine guards, 22 distinguished visitors, and the Ministers of Culture and Urbanity, received his freedom with probation for life.

And was decorated in the Order of the Caged Lion.

(GROWLING)

(PRISONERS SHOUTING)

BERENSEN: One score later, as per Maw Clampette’s detailed instructions, Cadazio and his own nephews arranged for the entirety of the hobby room to be relocated onboard a Goliath aviation 12-engine artillery transport directly from Ennui to Liberty.

In this form, the avant-garde assumed its place upon the plains of Central Kansas.

“Pencils, pens, erasers, thumbtacks, “pushpins, typewriter repairman.”

Why am I paying for a hotel room at a beach club on the North Atlantic coast?

BERENSEN: Because I had to go there to write it.

“Breakfast, lunch, dinner, laundry, nightcap, midnight snack.”

What is wrong with the desk right here in your office?

Courtesy of this magazine.

BERENSEN: Don’t ask me to be indiscreet about what happened between me and Moses at a seaside inn 20 years ago. We were lovers.

I went back to remember.

On my dime.

BERENSEN: Yes, please.

Add it up.

(WHISTLE BLOWS)

(GUNS FIRING)

(TYPEWRITER CLACKING)

KREMENTZ: March 1st.

Negotiations between undergraduates and the university administration break down abruptly in early morning hours after clamorous debate, angry name-calling and, finally, outright gambling over the right of free access to the girls’ dormitory for all male students.

The protest which ended in a stalemate…

(BOTH SPEAKING FRENCH)

KREMENTZ: …gave the superficial appearance of a vanity exercise for the pimple-cream and wet-dream contingent.

(CLOCK TICKING)

But, in fact, the sexes were equally represented.

Young lady, shoes!

And all participants emphasized the basis of their frustration, a desire, more, a biological need for freedom. Full stop.

(TUTTING)

It has exploded into symbolism and everybody’s talking about it.

(ALL CLAMORING)

KREMENTZ: March 5th.

Late supper at the B’s.

Eldest boy, 19, not home since yesterday morning.

(SPEAKING FRENCH)

KREMENTZ: (IN ENGLISH) Father chanced upon him midday, marching alongside his comrades.

Their slogan…

“The children are grumpy.”

Thank you.

An additional dinner guest, thus far, fails to appear.

For this, I am grateful.

Had not been informed of his invitation in first place.

We didn’t mean to offend you.

We’re sorry.

(SPEAKING FRENCH)

(IN ENGLISH) We thought you might decline the invitation if we warned you.

You were right.

Yeah.

KREMENTZ: Local news reports aggressive crowd-control methods…

(GUNFIRE)

…in use on street today. Quote…

Just give him a chance.

He’s very intelligent.

(SPEAKS FRENCH)

(IN ENGLISH) So, how long has it been since what’s-his-name?

I know you mean well.

“It begins with a prickly tingling of the exposed skin.”

(MR. AND MRS. B. CLEAR THROATS)

I’m not an old maid.

MR. B.: We don’t think that.

(SPEAKS FRENCH)

(IN ENGLISH) Of course you’re not.

KREMENTZ: “Then, a reddening and swelling of the orbital muscles.”

Take me at my word.

I live by myself on purpose.

I prefer relationships that end.

I deliberately choose to have neither husband nor children.

The two greatest deterrents to any woman’s attempt to live by and for writing.

Why are we crying?

Because it’s sad.

(SPEAKS FRENCH)

MR. B.: (IN ENGLISH) We don’t want you to be alone.

MRS. B.: Loneliness is a kind of poverty.

I’m not sad. My eyes hurt.

There’s something wrong with your apartment.

(EXPLOSION IN DISTANCE)

“Finally, a barrage of searing pain as snot pours from the nostrils and the throat spasms and constricts.”

(ALL COUGHING)

MR. B.: Don’t breathe.

(SIGHS)

(WATER SLOSHING)

(YELPS)

I’m naked, Mrs. Krementz.

I can see that.

Why are you crying?

Tear gas.

Also, I suppose I’m sad.

Please turn away. I feel shy about my new muscles.

Go tell your parents you’re home. They’re worried.

ZEFFIRELLI: I’m expected back on the barricades.

I didn’t see any barricades.

Well, we’re still constructing them.

KREMENTZ: Uh-huh.

What are you writing?

A manifesto.

I told them not to invite Paul, by the way.

Maybe you’re sad, but you don’t seem lonely to me.

Exactly!

I saw you at the protest on top of a bookcase taking notes.

Is there a story in us? For the people of Kansas.

Maybe.

Then you should study our resolutions.

Or, anyway, will you proofread it? My parents think you’re a good writer.

Give it to me.

(WATER SPLASHES)

It’s a little damp.

Physically or metaphorically?

Both. Based on the cover and the first four sentences.

Don’t criticize my manifesto.

Oh, you don’t want remarks?

I don’t need remarks, do I?

I only asked you to proofread it ’cause I thought you’d be even more impressed by how good it already is.

Let’s start with the typos.

MAN: Can the faculty succeed if the students fail?

(FOOTSTEPS APPROACH)

It remains to be seen.

MR. B.: Ah. Paul Duval.

Lucinda Krementz.

PAUL: How do you do?

Your beard is scratching me.

Unexpected guest finally arrives. Looks like hell.

Describes odyssey across city.

Stalled trains, stalled buses, broken windows, paving stones flying in all directions.

(CHUCKLING) Anyway, we’re here.

The famous Lucinda. Hello.

I did not know you were coming. They did not tell me.

This is not an official meeting.

ZEFFIRELLI: Good evening.

KREMENTZ: Start without me.

(GUNFIRE OUTSIDE)

(DOOR CLOSES)

(BEDSPRINGS SQUEAKING)

KREMENTZ: March 10th.

City services at a halt, one week and counting.

Public transportation, suspended.

Piles of garbage, uncollected. Schools on strike.

No mail, no milk.

(TV PLAYING INDISTINCTLY)

It’s me again.

KREMENTZ: What will normal reality be?

Next week, next month, whenever, if ever, we get the chance to experience it again.

Anyone’s guess.

What’s this part?

I added an appendix.

You’re joking.

No, I’m not.

You finished my manifesto without me.

I made it sound like you, I think.

Just more clear, more concise, a bit less poetic.

Put it this way, this isn’t the first manifesto I’ve proofread.

(DOORBELL RINGS)

Impossible to imagine these students, exhilarated, naive, brave in the extreme…

(DOOR OPENS)

…returning to their obedient classrooms.

(MUFFLED CONVERSATION)

(DOOR CLOSES)

Who was that?

Your mother.

My mother.

My mother?

What did she want? Did you tell her I was here?

Yes.

Why?

Because she asked. I don’t lie.

Was she upset?

I don’t think so.

What did she say?

She nodded.

What did you say?

I told her I was working on an article about you and your friends.

So, you are.

I’ve already written 1,000 words.

I asked to interview her.

Did she agree?

Yes, of course.

(SHOUTS) Well, I am upset!

I don’t know how to feel.

Am I in trouble? Why would my mother be so calm?

Is this proper?

This is all off-the-record. Everything. My whole life.

(CLICKS TONGUE)

What am I supposed to do now?

I should maintain journalistic neutrality.

Ooh.

I like how ruthless you are.

It’s part of your beauty, I think.

So, you’ve got 1,000 words already, huh?

KREMENTZ: The kids did this.

Obliterated 1,000 years of Republican authority in less than a fortnight.

How and why?

Before it began, where did it begin?

(TYPEWRITER DINGS)

ZEFFIRELLI: It was another time. It was another Ennui.

Must be nearly six months ago, I guess. My sisters were still 12, anyway.

(UPBEAT FRENCH SONG PLAYING)

You danced to the Craze and the Lait Chaud.

You wore your hairdo in the Pompidou, the Crouton, or the Fruits-de-Mer.

Your slang mixed bits of Latin with philosophy jargon and manual signaling.

Devil’s advocates bickered and debated perpetually, ad nauseam, only for the sake of argument.

(SPEAKING FRENCH)

ZEFFIRELLI: (IN ENGLISH) Every clique had a rival.

The Nuts had the Bolts. The Sticks had the Stones.

The Jocks had us, the Bookworms, until Mitch-Mitch failed the baccalaureate and got sent down to National Duty-obligation.

Three months in the Mustard Region.

(SPEAKING FRENCH)

(IN ENGLISH) He was sent to the Mustard Region for National Duty-obligation.

(SPEAKING FRENCH)

(IN ENGLISH) I’m sorry?

(SPEAKING FRENCH)

(IN ENGLISH) How dare you?

Who gave you permission to besmirch our friend?

Does it occur to you he’s very probably somewhere marching in the middle of the night right now, carrying a 50-pound sack of gunpowder and peeling stale potatoes while he digs a latrine trench in the rain with a tin cup?

He doesn’t want to be in the military.

(SPEAKING FRENCH)

(GIRLS GASP)

(SPEAKING FRENCH)

(IN ENGLISH) Easy for you to say from the comfort of the Sans Blague.

(SPEAKING FRENCH)

(MAN SCOFFS)

(SPEAKING FRENCH)

(IN ENGLISH) Mitch-Mitch, what are you doing here?

You’re supposed to be in the Mustard Region for another two months.

KREMENTZ: Five years later, I, myself, translated Mitch-Mitch Simca’s poetic interpretation of his National Duty-obligation service.

(APPLAUSE)

The flashback scene in Act Two of Goodbye, Zeffirelli.

In North Africa, I caught a bullet in the tail.

In South America, I caught a chunk of high-explosive shrapnel in the left wing.

In East Asia, I picked up a rare, microbial, infectious gut-parasite in the lower abdominal cavity, and I’ve got them all with me right now, still in my body, but I don’t regret my choice to wear this uniform.

And in 16 years, I’ll get my pension.

Well, that’s your bedtime story, ladies. Lights out!

CADETS: Hup! Ho! Hut! Lights out! Covers tucked! Blankets on!

MAN: Pray your prayers! CADET: Sir!

(CADETS WHISPERING PRAYERS)

CADETS: Amen. Amen. Amen.

CADET: Psst.

Psst, Mitch-Mitch. Psst.

Psst, Mitch-Mitch. What do you wanna be?

MITCH-MITCH: What?

What do you want to be, Mitch-Mitch?

With my grades, I’ll be an assistant pharmacist.

Will that make you be satisfied?

It won’t depress me. I should have studied harder.

And you, Robouchon?

Oh, I have no choice. I’ll work for my father’s glass factory.

Someone has to take over.

CADET: It’s normal.

Vaugirard. What’s your plan?

I suppose I’ll continue to be an attractive wastrel like my cousins on both sides of the family.

Your cousins are the best.

I love your cousins.

Yeah.

What about you, Morisot?

Morisot, what do you want to be?

MORISOT: A protestor.

What’d he say?

He said, “A protestor.”

What does he mean?

I don’t know.

I thought Morisot was supposed to be a professor of geological chemistry.

Morisot’s crying.

Shh!

Who said “shh”?

MORISOT: I won’t do it.

It’s only eight more weeks, Morisot, before we complete the program.

I don’t mean the program.

I mean from when we go home until retirement age.

That 48-year period of my life, I mean. That’s what I won’t do.

I can no longer envision myself as a grown-up man in our parents’ world.

(WINDOW OPENS)

(WIND WHOOSHING)

(THUDS)

Morisot! He went out the window!

Is he dead?

I don’t know.

How far did he fall?

Five floors with high ceilings.

It rained last night. Maybe the mud’s still soft.

He’s not moving.

He’s still not moving.

He’s still not moving.

He’s still not moving.

He’s still not moving.

He’s still not moving.

He’s still not moving.

(SIREN BLARING IN DISTANCE)

(SPEAKING FRENCH)

(LIGHTER CLOSES)

ZEFFIRELLI: (IN ENGLISH) The next morning, Mitch-Mitch was arrested for Desertion and Desecration, and the Sans Blague became headquarters for the Movement of Young Idealists for the Revolutionary Overthrow of Reactionary Neo-liberal Society.

What are you doing?

(SPEAKING FRENCH)

(IN ENGLISH) They can live together.

Tip-top with Charvet.

(SPEAKING FRENCH)

(CLICKING)

(MUSIC PLAYING ON JUKEBOX)

KREMENTZ: There followed, a brisk, unpredictable tit-for-tat.

between Ennui’s elders and its youngers.

August.

Community Whisper Campaign denounces student movement.

September.

Sans Blague coffee license revoked by official decree.

October.

Propaganda Committee erects pirate radio tower on Physics Department rooftop.

November.

Meal plan blockade of the undergraduate cafeteria.

December.

Check-out protest at the Bibliothèque Principale.

Entire library circulation legally removed until five minutes before incur of massive overdue book fines.

January.

Mitch-Mitch released to parental custody.

February.

The girls’ dormitory uprising.

It all, in the end, leads to…

March.

The chessboard revolution.

(MAN SPEAKS FRENCH ON SPEAKERS)

(SPEAKS FRENCH)

(REPLIES IN FRENCH)

(SPEAKING FRENCH)

(SPEAKING FRENCH)

(IN ENGLISH) What page you on?

(SPEAKING FRENCH)

(IN ENGLISH) I think so. By definition.

(SPEAKS FRENCH)

(READING UNDERBREATH)

KREMENTZ: (IN ENGLISH) In spite of the purity of their cause, to create a free, borderless, utopian civilization, the students, nevertheless, split into factions before fully uniting in first place.

(SPEAKING FRENCH)

(READING UNDERBREATH)

KREMENTZ: (IN ENGLISH) One thing is now finally clear, they are answering their parents.

What do they want? To defend their illusions.

A luminous abstraction.

(SPEAKING FRENCH)

(READING UNDERBREATH)

KREMENTZ: (IN ENGLISH) I am convinced they are better than we were.

(SPEAKING FRENCH)

(IN ENGLISH) Mrs. Krementz suggested it, actually. The appendix.

(SPEAKS FRENCH)

(IN ENGLISH) Polished it. Certain passages.

(SPEAKING FRENCH)

(IN ENGLISH) I inscribed it to you.

Oh.

(SPEAKING FRENCH)

KREMENTZ: (IN ENGLISH) Remind myself, “You are a guest at this manifestation. Not my fight. Stay out of it, Lucinda. Keep your mouth shut.”

I have to say something.

You’re a very bright girl, Juliette.

If you put away your powder puff for one minute, forgive me, and think for yourself for one minute, forgive me, you might realize you’re all in this together.

Even the riot police.

(SPEAKING FRENCH)

(MAN SPEAKS FRENCH ON SPEAKERS)

(IN ENGLISH) Our move.

(SPEAKING FRENCH)

(IN ENGLISH) That was impolite. Of me.

I withdraw the remark.

(SPEAKS FRENCH)

(IN ENGLISH) I beg your pardon.

(SPEAKS FRENCH)

(IN ENGLISH) I’m sorry.

(SPEAKS FRENCH)

(IN ENGLISH) Thank you.

You’re sure?

(SPEAKS FRENCH)

(IN ENGLISH) Sure you’re not a child?

(SPEAKS FRENCH)

(IN ENGLISH) Then learn to accept an apology. That’s important.

(SPEAKING FRENCH)

(IN ENGLISH) Grown-ups.

(MAN SPEAKS FRENCH ON SPEAKERS)

(IN ENGLISH) Our move. The mayor’s waiting.

(SPEAKING FRENCH)

(IN ENGLISH) Kindly leave me my dignity.

She’s not an old maid. She’s not in love with me.

She’s our friend. I’m her friend.

She’s confused. She wants to help us.

She’s angry. She’s a very good writer.

It’s a lonely life, isn’t it?

Sometimes.

It’s true. I should maintain journalistic neutrality, if it exists.

(CLICKS TONGUE)

(IN ENGLISH) Please excuse me, Mrs. Krementz.

(WOMAN SPEAKING FRENCH)

(SIGHS)

(SPEAKING FRENCH)

(MAN SPEAKS FRENCH ON SPEAKERS)

(WHISTLE BLOWS)

(FIREWORKS BURSTING)

(INDISTINCT SHOUTING)

(IN ENGLISH) It’s just fireworks.

She’s the best of them.

Stop bickering. Go make love.

(SPEAKS FRENCH)

(IN ENGLISH) Me, too. Except for Mrs. Krementz.

I thought so.

(FIREWORKS CONTINUE)

(PEOPLE CLAMORING)

KREMENTZ: March 15th.

Discover on flyleaf of my composition book a hasty paragraph.

Not sure when Zeffirelli had the chance to write it.

Late that night while I slept?

Poetic, not necessarily in a bad way. Reads as follows…

ZEFFIRELLI: Post script to a burst appendix.

An invincible comet speeds on its guided arc toward the outer reaches of the galaxy in cosmic space-time.

What was our cause?

Recollection of two memories.

You. Soap scent of drugstore shampoo, ashtray of stale cigarettes, burnt toast.

Her. Perfume of cheap gasoline, coffee on the breath, too much sugar, cocoa butter skin.

Where does she spend her summers?

They say it’s the smells you finally don’t forget.

The brain works that way.

I’ve never read my mother’s books.

I’m told my father was really quite remarkable during the last war.

Best parents I know.

The girls’ dormitory.

First time I’ve come inside, except to vandalize it during demonstrations.

I said, “Don’t criticize my manifesto.” She said…

(JULIETTE SPEAKS FRENCH)

ZEFFIRELLI: (IN ENGLISH) I feel shy about my new muscles.

Her large, stupid eyes watched me pee.

A thousand kisses later, will she still remember the taste of my tool on the tip of her tongue?

Apologies, Mrs. Krementz. I know you despise crude language.

KREMENTZ: Additional sentence at bottom of page completely indecipherable due to poor penmanship.

(MUSIC PLAYING)

“Revisions to a Manifesto. Page four, asterisk one. The promotion of…”

(MUSIC STOPS)

(ELECTRICITY CRACKLING)

(WHIMPERS)

(CHATTERING IN FRENCH)

(STATIC ON RADIO)

(IN ENGLISH) I’ll be right back.

Zeffirelli!

(SHOUTING IN FRENCH)

(MUSIC RESUMES)

KREMENTZ: (IN ENGLISH) He is not an invincible comet speeding on its guided arc toward the outer reaches of the galaxy in cosmic space-time.

Rather, he is a boy who will die young.

He will drown on this planet in the steady current of the deep, dirty, magnificent river that flows night and day through the veins and arteries of his own ancient city.

His parents will receive a telephone call at midnight, dress briskly, mechanically, and hold hands in the silent taxi as they go to identify the body of their cold son.

His likeness, mass-produced and shrink-wrap packaged, will be sold like bubblegum to the hero-inspired who hope to see themselves like this.

The touching narcissism of the young.

March 30th.

Across the street, a glaring metaphor.

Bell rings, pupils scamper inside back to their obedient classrooms.

(MUSIC PLAYING IN DISTANCE)

A creaky swing sways in the deserted schoolyard.

(TYPEWRITER CLACKING)

(KNOCK AT DOOR)

KREMENTZ: Come in!

(TYPEWRITER CONTINUES CLACKING)

(TYPEWRITER CLACKING)

(ROEBUCK CLEARS THROAT)

(BEEPING)

(BEEPING STOPS)

Someone told me you have a photographic memory.

Is that true?

That is false.

I have a typographic memory.

I recollect the written word with considerable accuracy and detail.

In other spheres, my powers of retention are distinctly impressionistic.

I’m known to my intimates as a most forgetful man.

Yet you remember every word you ever wrote.

Hmm.

The novels, the essays, the poems, the plays…

The unrequited valentines. Sadly, I do.

May I test you?

If you must.

Unless we try the patience of your viewership, or the esteemed spokesmen for Gemini tooth powder?

My favorite piece is the one about the cook, where the kidnappers get poisoned.

“Do students of the table dream in flavors? That was the first of the questions a reporter for this magazine had diligently prepared in advance of his encounter with Lieutenant Nescaffier, ranking chef at District Headquarters on the narrow river-peninsula known as the Rognure d’Ongle. All such queries were to remain unanswered in the course of that eventful evening.”

Shall I carry on?

Please.

ROEBUCK: I’d arrived insufficiently early.

Though the suite of rooms on the penultimate floor of the grand edifice was hypothetically indicated on a floorplan provided on the back of the carte de dégustation…

it was nigh impossible to locate, at least for this reporter.

A weakness in cartography.

The curse of the homosexual.

Monsieur Nescaffier made his name and reputation.

He is fanatically celebrated among cooks, cops, and capitaines, not to mention squealers, stoolies, and snitches, as the great exemplar of the mode of cuisine known as Gastronomie Gendarmique.

(INDISTINCT CHATTER)

“Police cooking” began with the stake-out picnic and paddy-wagon snack, but has evolved and codified into something refined, intensely nourishing, and, if executed properly, marvelously flavorful.

Fundamentals… highly portable, rich in protein, eaten with the non-dominant hand only, the other being reserved for firearms and paperwork.

(BELL RINGS)

(GUNS FIRING)

Most dishes are served pre-cut. Nothing crunchy.

Quiet food.

(MAN SPEAKING INDISTINCTLY ON RADIO)

Sauces are dehydrated and ground to a powder to avoid spillage and the risk of the tainting of a crime scene.

Diners are expected to provide their own fourchettes de poche, often engraved with the arcane mottoes and off-color sayings of their respective precincts.

(THUNDER RUMBLING)

(RAIN PATTERING OUTSIDE)

How are you planning to kill me?

I believe this to be a case of mistaken identity.

Have you been in the chicken coop for a very long while?

(SWITCH CLICKS)

(THUNDER RUMBLING)

I beg your pardon.

(FOOTSTEPS RECEDING)

Monsieur Nescaffier, even during his apprenticeship in a provincial fire department, aspired to a lofty perch, and there can be no higher position in the métier than that of Chef Cuisinier for the private dining room of the Commissaire de la Police Municipale.

(CLOCK TICKING)

Forgive my tardiness.

No, not at all. Not at all.

(SPEAKING FRENCH)

(IN ENGLISH) Mr. Wright, may I present my mother Louise de la Villatte. You can call her Maman.

We all do.

Bonsoir, monsieur.

THE COMMISSAIRE: This is my oldest friend, Chou-fleur.

When I met him, he was a girlish little schoolboy with ringlets and a full set of teeth.

Now, he looks like a corpse.

(CHUCKLES)

In the corner, Patrolman Maupassant.

He’ll be serving.

Cocktails.

Oui, monsieur.

THE COMMISSAIRE: And this is my son, Gigi, in the crime-lab smock.

What are you stealing from my personal records?

Unsolved cases.

THE COMMISSAIRE: Well, say hello to Mr. Wright.

Hello, Mr. Wright.

Hello, Gigi.

Full name, Isadore Sharif de la Villatte.

The Commissaire and his only son, widowered and motherless, left the colony where the boy was born, cemented together by their shared grief.

Gigi was six.

(SIREN BLARING)

His schoolrooms were the station house and the squad car.

He was educated by forensic tutors in the traditions of law enforcement.

His first drawings were facial composites based on eyewitness testimony.

His first words were in Morse code.

(BEEPING)

It was, I suppose, wonderfully obvious.

He was brought up to succeed the Commissaire himself.

Yes, I’ve read you. In the magazine.

To your satisfaction?

Of course. Of course.

Good writer.

I trust you are already familiar with this genius.

At least by reputation.

Lieutenant Nescaffier.

I surely am.

The drink, a milky, purplish aperitif, ferociously fragrant, overtly medicinal, ever so faintly anesthetizing and cooled to a glacial viscosity in a miniature version of the type of vacuum-flask normally associated with campsites and schoolrooms, cast a spell, which, during the subsequent 60-second interval, was to be mortally broken.

On three overlapping dramatic timelines, the following events came to pass.

(TICKING)

One.

Monsieur Nescaffier began his mysterious ritual.

I can neither comprehend nor describe what occurs behind a kitchen door.

I have always been content to enjoy the issue of an artist’s talent without unveiling the secrets of the chisel or the turpentine.

Two.

(BEEPING)

Patrolman Maupassant, responding to an infrequently illuminated signal, delivered a telephone to his superior.

Go ahead.

(OPERATOR SPEAKING FRENCH OVER PHONE)

(LINE BEEPS)

(MAN SPEAKING FRENCH OVER PHONE)

MAN 2: (IN ENGLISH) As you know by now, we have kidnapped your son and absconded to a secure location which you will never discover.

Release or execute the Abacus and the little boy will be safely returned to your custody.

Failure to do so by sun-up will result in your son’s violent death.

(LINE DISCONNECTS)

ROEBUCK: Three.

The skylight window of the makeshift nursery which occupies the attic quarters jimmied ajar.

(GUN CLICKS)

(THUDS)

(GIGI STRUGGLING)

(OBJECTS CLATTERING)

ROEBUCK: The getaway and eventual motor pursuit was rendered vividly, if, perhaps, a bit fancifully, in a comic strip published the following week.

(CAR ENGINE STOPS)

(DOG BARKING IN DISTANCE)

Though the infamous Ennui gang war “Winter Crimewave” had eradicated a healthy number of thugs and hooligans, it had also claimed the lives of a disgraceful proportion of innocent citizens.

Due to the surprise capture of the racketeering accountant Albert “the Abacus”, in possession of a valise containing payroll stubs for all three of the city’s major syndicates, the law-abiding community’s hopes for an accelerated resolution to the crisis had been renewed.

(WHISTLE BLOWS)

(SIREN BLARING)

However, this turn of events had forcefully rattled the cages of the denizens of the criminal underworld.

(GUNFIRE)

For myself, I had failed to recognize the Abacus, but as it happened, I knew the chicken coop.

This is not in the article, by the way.

If I refer to Mr. Howitzer, do you know who I mean?

Of course. Arthur Howitzer, Jr.

Founder and editor of The French Dispatch.

It was my first week in Ennui when I suffered the misfortune of being arrested in a drinking establishment on the fringes of the Flop Quarter along with a number of newly-found companions.

What was the charge?

Love.

You see, people may or may not be mildly threatened by your anger, your hatred, your pride, but love the wrong way and you will find yourself in great jeopardy.

In this case, a chicken coop jail cell for six days straight.

I had no one who cared to rescue me, and no one who cared to scold me.

And the only local number committed to my typographic memory was Printer’s District 9-2211.

ARTHUR: While I regret we are unable to publish either of these specific pieces, I would be very pleased to consider other submissions in the future.

Or if you find yourself in Ennui…

ROEBUCK: I’d never met the man.

I knew how to reach him only because I wanted a job.

ARTHUR: Let’s see here.

High school newspaper, poetry club, drama society.

Wrote the school song. Words and music.

Junior researcher, cub reporter, assistant editor.

Fires and murders.

That’s how I started.

My father owned the paper, of course.

Bit of sports, bit of crime, bit of politics.

Shortlisted twice, Best Essays.

Deep South, Midwest, East Coast.

Vast country.

Haven’t been there in 20 years.

Not now. I’m conducting a job interview.

Your writing samples are good. I re-read them in the taxi.

Have you ever done any book reviews?

Never.

You’re gonna be in there another few hours before they process you out.

Read this. Give me 300 words.

I’ll pay you 500 francs minus the 250 I advanced for your bail, but I’ll re-advance that against cost of living.

Bring me a first draft tomorrow morning and however you go about it, Mr. Wright, try to make it sound like you wrote it that way on purpose.

Thank you.

No crying.

It came to be known as the “Night of a Thousand Slugs.”

I’m reciting again.

How the Commissaire and his elite team of experts and analysts succeeded so swiftly in determining the location of the kidnappers’ lair…

Well… I just don’t know.

The tools of the trade, I suppose.

(SPEAKING FRENCH)

ROEBUCK: (IN ENGLISH) But succeed they did.

(INSTRUMENTAL MUSIC PLAYING)

(TRAIN PASSING BY)

Who were they?

It was later revealed.

A hired crew of bandits and gunmen imported by the ranking bosses of the Ennui rackets and their network of underworld middlemen.

Chauffeur Joe Lefèvre, a once almost promising instrumentalist.

Stetson, Spinster, and Hieronymus Von Altman, Dutch masterminds.

Marconi Brutelli, the Mediterranean anarchist.

A pair of hooligans, estranged cousins.

A trio of showgirls, all junkies.

Plus one small, resourceful prisoner, determined to free himself and reduce taxpayer expense.

(TAPPING ON METAL)

What’s that noise?

(COIN CLATTERS)

Uh, air bubbles in the radiator pipes. It’s pressurized.

Sounds like Morse code.

Vaguely, maybe.

I’m Gigi, by the way. What’s your name?

I’m not gonna tell you that. This is a felony.

You’re not a criminal. You’re just a mixed-up showgirl.

Ha.

Ha, yourself.

Shut up.

What color eyes do you have?

Blue?

Hello.

Hello.

Sing me a lullaby.

I’m scared.

(SINGING IN FRENCH)

(BOTH SINGING)

(IN ENGLISH) Are you asleep?

GIGI: Uh-huh.

ROEBUCK: The Commissaire adored Gigi with all his voluminous heart.

However, his mind, that exceptional machine for the detection and investigation of criminal activity, had been whirring since dinnertime.

(SPEAKING FRENCH)

Dîner.

Dîner.

ROEBUCK: (IN ENGLISH) And he was in a condition of dire calorific depletion.

Nescaffier, back in the field for the first time in six years, came prepared to dazzle.

Dîner.

ROEBUCK: (IN ENGLISH) The change was instantaneous.

THE COMMISSAIRE: (INHALES) Mmm.

Nescaffier.

ROEBUCK: Even as the faintest hints of the aromas of the great chef’s kitchen ribboned into the Commissaire’s nostrils, he began to envision and formulate a multi-pronged battle-plan.

To start…

Deviled eggs of the precinct canary served in shells of its own meringue.

(SPEAKING FRENCH)

ROEBUCK: (IN ENGLISH) Next…

(SPEAKING FRENCH)

ROEBUCK: (IN ENGLISH) Kidneys.

Poached with plums from the mayor’s rooftop arbor.

(THE COMMISSAIRE SPEAKING FRENCH)

ROEBUCK: (IN ENGLISH) Then… minced lamb bon-bons in pastry wrappers.

(THE COMMISSAIRE SPEAKING FRENCH)

ROEBUCK: (IN ENGLISH) Blasé oyster soup.

(THE COMMISSAIRE SPEAKING FRENCH)

ROEBUCK: A magnificent city-park pigeon hash.

Finally…

(THE COMMISSAIRE SPEAKING FRENCH)

ROEBUCK: …tabac pudding with quadruple cream.

(THE COMMISSAIRE SPEAKING FRENCH)

(PHONE RINGING)

(IN ENGLISH) May I interrupt with a question?

Please.

Forgive me.

Just permit me to dog-ear the page. Mentally.

I beg your pardon.

You’ve written about the American negro, the French intellectual, the Southern romantic…

And the anti-negro.

The anti-negro.

Scripture, mythology, folklore, true crime, false crime, the ghost story, the picaresque, the bildungsroman.

But more than anything, over all these years, you’ve written about food.

Why?

Who? What? Where? When? How? Valid questions, but I learned as a cub stringer, never, under any circumstance, if it is remotely within your power to resist the impulse, never ask a man why.

It… It tightens a fellow up.

I apologize, but I’m gonna hold you to it…

Torture.

…if you’ll agree.

Self-reflection is a vice best conducted in private or not at all.

Well, I’ll answer your question out of sheer weariness, but I truly don’t know what I’m about to say.

There is a particular sad beauty well-known to the companionless foreigner as he walks the streets of his adopted, preferably moonlit, city. In my case, Ennui, France.

I have so often… I have so often shared the day’s glittering discoveries with no one at all.

But always, somewhere along the avenue or the boulevard, there was a table set for me.

A cook, a waiter, a bottle, a glass, a fire.

I chose this life.

It is the solitary feast that has been very much like a comrade, my great comfort and fortification.

TALK SHOW HOST: Do you remember where you placed the bookmark?

Of course, silly goose. “Meanwhile. Meanwhile, across the street…”

(MALE OFFICER OVER RADIO IN FRENCH)

(SWEARS IN FRENCH)

(SPEAKING FRENCH)

(SWEARS IN FRENCH)

(COCKS GUN)

(GUNS FIRING)

Hold your fire! Hold your fire!

(GUNSHOT)

(TAPPING CONTINUES)

ROEBUCK: During a lull in the skirmish, an ancient concierge, veteran of two wars, limped across the street to deliver an enigmatic message.

(FEEDBACK WHINES)

I’m speaking to the leader of the gang of kidnappers on the top floor.

Do you have a working kitchen in your lair?

My son needs a snack.

Allow us to send in our precinct cook along with some supplies and provisions.

He will prepare a supper of sufficient proportions to feed you and all your accomplices.

We already ate.

(ALL MURMURING)

THE CHAUFFEUR: Is it an underling or Nescaffier himself?

Blackbird pie.

(THE CHAUFFEUR GRUNTS)

ROEBUCK: Required, of course, to sample each item, the chef ate the deathly poison.

(LOW INDISTINCT CHATTER)

For the little boy.

Stop.

Write down the recipe.

(EXPLOSION)

(WEAKLY) Help…

ROEBUCK: But Nescaffier survived, thanks to the extreme fortitude, bolstered and braced, season upon season, by the richest, most potent plates, pans, and sauce pots of his almost superhuman stomach.

He knew well, of course, Gigi loathed and despised the radish in all its forms with a deep, unbridled passion, and had never so much as touched one or even spoken the word, during his entire young lifetime.

However, as it happened, the chauffeur hated radishes, too.

(CAR ENGINE STARTS)

(GUNFIRE)

(TIRES SCREECHING)

(SIREN BLARING)

(TIRES SCREECHING)

(CATS MEOWING)

(DOGS BARKING)

(HISSING)

(SIREN BLARING)

(TIRES SCREECH)

Take the wheel!

ROEBUCK: Perhaps the most stirring and startling phenomenon witnessed over the trajectory of that protracted dinner date was this…

(BOTH LAUGHING)

(GIGI SNIFFLES)

(SOBBING)

ROEBUCK: A delicious irony.

Monsieur Albert, accountant to the demi-monde and remote cause of the entire spectacular contretemps, had been forgotten in the chicken coop from Thursday dinner to Monday breakfast and had very nearly starved in his cell.

It was only the convalescent Monsieur Nescaffier himself who retained the presence of mind to prepare the prisoner an omelette à la policier, which he delivered warm, wrapped in a day-old search warrant.

The Abacus ate well that morning.

A word from Gemini tooth powder.

(MUNCHING)

It was supposed to be an article about a great chef.

ROEBUCK: It is in part.

For the Tastes and Smells section…

ROEBUCK: I understand. The assignment was perfectly clear.

Perhaps, you fail to grasp that I was shot at and hand-grenaded against my will.

I only asked to be fed, and was, marvelously, as I described in some detail.

Nescaffier only gets one line of dialogue.

Well, I did cut something he told me. It made me too sad.

I could stick it back in, if you like.

What did he say?

(MUNCHING CONTINUES)

(GRUNTS)

(LOW INDISTINCT CHATTER)

MAN: Martin… Martin…

Guillaume Martin.

(SOFTLY) They had a flavor.

I beg your pardon?

The toxic salts in the radishes… they had a flavor.

Totally unfamiliar to me.

Like a bitter, moldy, peppery, spicy, oily kind of earth.

I never tasted that taste in my life.

Not entirely pleasant, extremely poisonous, but still, a new flavor.

That’s a rare thing at my age.

I admire your bravery, Lieutenant.

I’m not brave.

I just wasn’t in the mood to be a disappointment to everybody.

I’m a foreigner, you know.

This city is full of us, isn’t it?

I’m one myself.

Seeking something missing.

Missing something left behind.

Maybe with good luck, we’ll find what eluded us in the places we once called home.

(MUNCHING CONTINUES)

That’s the best part of the whole thing.

That’s the reason for it to be written.

I couldn’t agree less.

Well, anyway, don’t cut it.

(DOOR OPENS)

(DOOR CLOSES)

Are we all here?

I guess you know. It was a heart attack.

(SIGHS)

Excusez-moi.

(CRYING)

No crying.

Is somebody coming to take him away?

There’s a strike at the morgue.

Who was with him?

HERMÈS: He was alone.

Reading birthday telegrams.

(LIGHTER CLICKS)

Psst.

Don’t light the candles. He’s dead.

I’ll have a slice.

Me, too.

We need to draft something. Who wants it?

We’ve got a file.

I’m working on the art.

SAZERAC: That’s him.

Let’s write it together.

Hmm, write what?

ALL: The obituary.

Arthur Howitzer, Jr. Born in North Kansas, 10 miles from the geographical center of the United States.

ALUMNA: Mother died when he was five.

Son of a newspaper publisher, founder of this magazine.

The French Dispatch, previously known as Picnic.

STORY EDITOR: A largely unread Sunday supplement to the Liberty, Kansas Evening Sun.

It began as a holiday.

Is that true?

Sort of.

What happens next?

(OVERLAPPING CHATTER)

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