REVIEW: Francofonia

24 04 2016

FrancofoniaAs the names usually saved for the closing credits roll at the outset of Alexander Sokurov’s “Francofonia,” the director’s voice makes a rather unusual comment: “I don’t think it was successful” – referring to the film itself. The remark is not so much an invitation of judgment as it serves a demand to bring a critical eye to the work. Despite the director’s reservations (though is it really in spite of them?), the film holds up quite well under scrutiny.

Sokurov is perhaps most renowned for 2002’s “Russian Ark,” a kaleidoscopic tribute to St. Petersburg’s Hermitage Museum captured in a single 100-minute shot. While that level of choreography and discipline are undeniably impressive, the aesthetic rigor served like a straightjacket for the film. “Francofonia” finds joyous expression of its themes in a more freeform approach. Sokurov dabbles in documentary, video essay, re-enactment and potentially even some fictionalized elements to tell a story about how the Louvre survived the scourge of Nazi atrocity in World War II.

Unlike many a period piece, Sokurov keeps this episode of history relevant in more ways than one. He relates the Louvre to the very dialectic at the core of France’s being, that of egocentric vs. idealistic thinking. These two French mindsets find personification in two specters haunting the halls, a young gamine chanting the national motto and none other than Napoleon himself, who brings up the often ignored truth about museums’ collections standing as a testament to imperialist pillaging.

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