Russian director Alexander Sokurov often tackles heady themes like corrosive power and the persistence of time. His newest film, Francofonia, combines these themes with his spellbinding visual knack in one glorious package.
Francofonia tells the story of the Louvre Museum, largely during the Nazi occupation of France. Put simply, it’s historical fiction. But Sokurov abhors simplicity. The film is a self-aware cinematic legend, devoid of timeline, plot and genre, to its own gain.
Just like wandering through different wings of a museum, Francofonia meanders dreamily across time and place, featuring the specters of icons like Napoleon Bonaparte, appropriately caricatured as a bloated megalomaniac, and a ghostly Marianne, the feminine spirit of France. But the main current remains the Nazi takeover of the Louvre and the regime’s perverse, attempted seizure of art and culture.
Sokurov appears unambiguously as the subjective narrator. Sometimes, the film even flashes to him sitting silently in his messy office. His direction complements his role as voiced narrator, telling the audience how and what to perceive with both voice and image. He waxes poetic on a motley backdrop of archival footage and his own, pontificating on culture, humanity, history, art and — the institution tying these elements together — museums.
“Who needs France without the Louvre?” Sokurov asks. “Or Russia without the Hermitage? Who would we be without museums?”
Museums fascinate Sokurov. His magnum opus, Russian Ark, sanctified the aforementioned Hermitage Museum.
Consider this, too: Sokurov has created films in series.
So this begs the question: Is Francofonia the second movement in a new suite on museums? If so, what new portrait awaits us?
Regardless, Francofonia is nothing but beautiful. Perhaps no other director could have done the Louvre justice so masterfully and artfully.
“In the Louvre, everything is about how people struggled, loved, killed, repented, lied and cried,” Sokurov says.
Francofonia screens on Saturday at 10 a.m., April 11 at 7 p.m. and April 12 at 4 p.m. at A/perture 1
— Anthony Harrison