During production, this film was often rumored to be shot in a single take, making it an ideal sequel to Aleksandr Sokurov's previous 'museum film', Russian Ark (2002). Eventually, a more traditional editing technique was chosen by Sokurov to tell the story. See more »
I confess that I am not a big fan of Russian director Aleksandr Sokurov. Many consider him the greatest Russian director of the 21st century and Tarkovsky's successor on Earth. I wasn't at all excited (euphemism!) About 'Russian Ark', I liked more 'The Sun' and 'Faust', but none of them managed to get more than a grade of 8 on IMDB from me. 'Francofonia' made in 2015, his latest project that hit the screens, did not make me change my mind.
How could I describe 'Francofonia'? Maybe we can talk about it as a personal documentary, or as a filmed essay on art museums and their place in European history, some kind of a sequel to 'Russian Ark' from this point of view. The Hermitage is also mentioned, by the way. Sokurov takes us through the history of the Parisian Louvre without going into details, without dwelling too much on any work of art. There is a central story, that of the German occupation and the confrontation in the period between 1940 and 1942 between the French administrator of the museum, Jacques Jaujard, and the head of the German section responsible for art in the occupied countries, count Wolff-Metternich, which turned into a tacit collaboration. The museum's art treasures were spared destruction and transfer as war trophies to temporarily victorious Germany. This is a story that has also been told several times in writing and on screen.
The docu-drama element is quite fragile and does not bring anything new to those who are minimally familiar with the subject. The essay part includes comments (by the director, I think) about the fragility of art and museums that house heritage treasures. To support this idea, a side story is introduced in which the commentating director talks via the Internet to the captain of a ship carrying containers (maybe with works of art?) on a stormy sea. It combines in a free collage documentary sequences, elements of docu-drama, plus slightly ridiculous scenes with Napoleon and Marianne, the symbol of France, serving as guides through the empty rooms of the museum. The commentary is vaguely poetic, null in depth of information, and slightly historically biased when trying to draw a forced comparison between the fate of Paris and the Louvre on the one hand and that of Leningrad besieged during the war and the Hermitage. In short, a personal film, which tries to be interesting and original, but only manages to be flat and pretentious.
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