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.
This review also appears over at Memorable TV…
Alternately charming, thoughtful and disturbing, The Giants (Les Géants) is a beautifully made and insightful look at the trials and tribulations of growing up. Calling to mind classic coming of age stories, most notably the Rob Reiner trip into adolescent adventure Stand by Me (with a dash of Lord of the Flies thrown in),The Giants is grounded in the realities of emotional and physical hardship but retains a flare for the fantasy life of youth.
Writer and director Bouli Lanners’ (Eldorado, A Very Long Engagement) piece centres around teenage brothers Seth (Martin Nissen) and Zak (Zacherie Chasseriaud), who are whiling away their summer in their recently deceased Grandfather’s dwelling in the Belgian countryside. Their mother, little more than a voice at the end of a phone line, is away on unspecified business, leaving her sons to roam free. In a desperate attempt to quell hunger pangs and boredom, the boys decide to rent out the house to a local marijuana grower and dealer. Hooking up with the dealer’s bullying right hand man’s (Karim Leklou) younger brother Dany (Paul Bartel), the boys head off in search of distraction – encountering unexpected kindness, danger and youthful intoxication…
The Giants is a hugely accomplished work featuring fine, moving performances from its young cast and a funny, believable plot that packs a tremendous amount into its lean 84 minutes. Highly recommended, the film – which received a fair amount of attention and a couple of awards at last year’s Cannes Festival – deserves to crossover from the art house cinemas to a wider audience. Should you get the chance, go see it, or failing that wait for the forthcoming DVD and Bluray release.
This review also appears over at Memorable TV.
An ethereally beautiful picture, Silent Souls (or Ovsyanki in the original Russian) is a triumphant cry for human love, life and dignity. It is also an amazing insight into a culture few of us will have had any real experience of. Working as a kind of visual treatise on the whims, inconsistencies and eccentricities of what it is to be human, it is a remarkable film and one that stays in the mind long after the final credits.
Centred on the physical and emotional geography of the Meryan people, a Finno-Ugric tribe based in North-Western Russia, the film primarily concerns Miron and Aist, two middle aged friends coming to terms with the sudden death of Miron’s young wife Tanya. As is customary in their culture, they embark on a journey of hundreds of miles in order to deliver her body to a sacred lake. Along the way, they take part in ‘toasting’, an ancient custom deriving from the need to commemorate the dead by regaling the listener with deeply personal details of their sex lives.
So far, so graphic. But Silent Souls is a deeply sensitive work, showing the need for interaction of all kinds and how we stay close in order to stay sane. An unforgettable film, beautifully realised.