Review of feature documentary Francofonia at FM and below…
Francofonia from writer and director Aleksandr Sokurov (Russian Ark) is an inspiring and deeply affecting study of the meaning of art, humanity and memory. Making use of a strikingly original narrative template, the story veers around the entire structure of the Louvre museum in Paris, taking in its history, and specifically, but not exclusively, the building’s experience of Paris’s Nazi occupation during World War 2.
As with Russian Ark, that famous one-take feature, this is art that is not enabled by a quick pitch or solid beginning, middle and end. This is culture and life ringing out as clear as day, and Sokurov’s personal ruminations on the subjects of art, war and society sound out like one of the most fascinating lectures you were ever fortunate enough to receive at college.
The theatrical pieces of French museum curator Jacques Jaujard (Louis-Do de Lencquesaing) and German Count Franz von Wolff-Meternich discussing the ideas of protecting works of art in the occupied museum offer a chillingly dreamlike sense of heightened realism to the film, which is made only more odd by the spirit of Napoleon Bonaparte roaming around the halls providing an 18th Century commentary on just how things are going.
Sokurov’s personal obsessions are also provided within a strange conversation between him speaking in Russian and an ocean going ship Captain talking in English caught in a trans-Atlantic storm. These sections are presumably telling us something about Sokurov’s ideas about time and space, but the meaning is unclear. What is for sure is that they add to the over-arching weirdness written all over this avant-garde and beautiful film. As with his earlier film, the majesty of the visual flair on show is impressive and allows the audience into the sheer spectacle of great architecture.
Much of what Sokurov appears to be telling us seems to come down to the fact that the best of humanity, kept within museum walls such as the Louvre’s is ultimately extremely vulnerable and open to all sorts of base elements. Francofonia ultimately succeeds as a lyrical paean to art and how in order to survive as humans we must respect it and keep it safe. At times when nothing is quite certain, keeping what’s best safe and sound can offer more comfort than most. With a haunting other-worldliness about the whole thing that is curiously frightening and at time wryly humourous, Francofonia more than deserves its place in the Museum for the Curious.