Francofonia

Review by David Jenkins @daveyjenkins

Directed by

Aleksandr Sokurov

Starring

Benjamin Utzerath Louis-Do de Lencquesaing Vincent Nemeth

Anticipation.

Aleksandr Sokurov’s willingness to make a film that fits the material is always interesting.

Enjoyment.

A simple statement made with effortless poeticism.

In Retrospect.

In praise of art, but also a reminder that we need to treasure what we have.

Russian director Alexander Sokurov takes a dance with the music of time in this moving plea for saving art.

You can’t help but be stunned by the insouciant confidence displayed in Aleksandr Sokurov’s dazzling plea for society to take better care of the art that it produces. We gather up the treasures of antiquity and store them in an impenetrable fortress like the Louvre. But nowhere is immune to the ravages of the environment or, worse, the destructive hand of man.

Francofonia is a mellifluous, multi-disciplined examination of the ways art helps to define who we are as well as being a physical marker of a specific moment in history. “What is France without the Louvre?” he asks. The film is also in thrall to those who make it their business to quietly exert their limited power to prevent our cultural legacy from falling into the wrong hands.

Jacques Jaujard is the hero of the piece, a taciturn bureaucrat who went against the collaborationist grain of the Vichy government to prevent the Nazis looting the Louvre during the occupation of 1940. He was secretly assisted in his endeavours by Franz von Wolff-Metternich, a Nazi art historian charged with indexing the the art, to give collectors like Hitler and Goebbels first dibs on the spoils. Sokurov isn’t interested so much in the mechanics of the pair’s scheme, more the intellectual drive behind it. He’s clearly impressed that people might risk their own lives to articulate their belief that art is more than a commodity to be traded, or a status symbol for the owner.

Maybe we need more people like that now? Though there are dramatised sequences with actors playing the central parts, this is foremost an essay film that attempts (and largely succeeds) in placing this tale of administrative derring do into a wider cultural context. Like much of Sokoruv’s work, this film looks to the ugly corners of life and history and locates profound bitter, beauty.

Published 12 Nov 2016

Anticipation.

Aleksandr Sokurov’s willingness to make a film that fits the material is always interesting.

Enjoyment.

A simple statement made with effortless poeticism.

In Retrospect.

In praise of art, but also a reminder that we need to treasure what we have.

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