Art’s of­ten pre­car­i­ous jour­ney through his­tory

Sun Sentinel Broward Edition - Showtime - South Broward - - MOVIES - By Jay Weiss­berg

It will be im­pos­si­ble to neatly pack­age “Fran­co­fo­nia” into a brief and ac­cu­rate de­scrip­tion, be­cause Alexander Sokurov’s dense, en­rich­ing med­i­ta­tion on the Lou­vre and specif­i­cally (but not ex­clu­sively) the mu­seum’s sta­tus dur­ing WWII de­fies cat­e­go­riza­tion. More ac­ces­si­ble than “Faust,” though def­i­nitely not one for the His­tory Chan­nel, “Fran­co­fo­nia” will please the Rus­sian au­teur’s fans but is un­likely to win him new con­verts.

View­ers who have been fol­low­ing the di­rec­tor’s ca­reer since the early days will be es­pe­cially at­tuned to the way he in­cor­po­rates so many themes he’s ad­dressed be­fore, from the early doc­u­men­taries about artists to his pics on 20th cen­tury rulers and, of course, “Rus­sian Ark.” It would be wrong though to think of “Fran­co­fo­nia” as a sum­ma­tion, since that word con­notes a cer­tain fi­nal­ity, and it’s clear that Sokurov has much more to say about art’s of­ten pre­car­i­ous jour­ney through his­tory.

A con­stant shuf­fling of lay­ers is one of the film’s hall­marks: It cuts from deathbed photos of Chekhov and Tol­stoy to a Skype con­ver­sa­tion that Sokurov has with a ship cap­tain, then shifts to the warm glow of 1940-set scenes be­tween Lou­vre head Jac­ques Jau­jard (Louis-Do de Lenc­que­saing) and Ger­man of­fi­cer Count Franziskus Wolff Met­ter­nich (Ben­jamin Utzerath). In be­tween are lessons on the Lou­vre’s cen­turies-long con­struc­tion; archival footage of Parisians get­ting on with their lives dur­ing the Nazi Oc­cu­pa­tion; re­flec­tions on how por­trai­ture MPAA rat­ing: Not rated Run­ning time: 1:27 Opens: Fri­day shaped Euro­pean civ­i­liza­tion; and the spirit of Napoleon (Vin­cent Nemeth) walk­ing the mu­seum’s grand gal­leries, oc­ca­sion­ally en­coun­ter­ing the per­son­i­fi­ca­tion of France, Mar­i­anne (Jo­hanna Korthals Altes).

Does it all come to­gether? Well, yes, if view­ers think of the film as a free­wheel­ing poetic es­say, highly per­sonal yet cap­ti­vat­ing. The pic’s core (or per­haps merely the hook?) is the re­la­tion­ship be­tween Jau­jard and Wolf Met­ter­nich, van­quished and con­queror, and how both men were in­tent on pro­tect­ing the Lou­vre’s trea­sures.

By the time the Nazis rolled into Paris in 1940, al­most all the works of art had al­ready been trans­ferred to a se­ries of safer chateaux across France, but the highly cul­tured, French-speak­ing Ger­man aris­to­crat would go on to defy his com­man­ders and con­tinue to keep France’s mu­seum hold­ings pro­tected from de­por­ta­tion to the Third Re­ich.

Sokurov, a de­voted Fran- cophile, pon­ders why the Nazis safe­guarded Paris while de­lib­er­ately de­stroy­ing so many cities of East­ern Europe, es­pe­cially Len­ingrad, whose Her­mitage suf­fered so greatly dur­ing the War. Per­haps it’s the same rea­son why we still feel a kick in the stom­ach when watch­ing footage of Hitler in front of the Eif­fel Tower: Paris rep­re­sents more than just France, just as the Lou­vre is more than a build­ing full of ex­tra­or­di­nary mas­ter­works.

Most ev­ery­one will agree that “Fran­co­fo­nia” looks terrific. Sokurov has de­signed a rich and var­ied pal­ette of tex­tures and tones that makes for con­stantly re­newed vis­ual plea­sures. Some images have an am­ber patina like the cen­turies-old var­nish on Old Master paint­ings in the Her­mitage, while drama­ti­za­tions from the ear­ly1940s have a flick­er­ing glow that im­i­tates color ni­trate stock screened through a car­bon-arc pro­jec­tor.

Oddly, no pro­duc­tion de­signer or art di­rec­tor is cred­ited; the print shown in Venice has a sweep­ing or­ches­tral coda at the fi­nale but no end cred­its.


Mar­i­annne (Jo­hanna Korthals), the per­son­i­fi­ca­tion of France, and Napoleon (Vin­cent Nemeth).

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