You don’t need to see, say, Matisse: The Cut-Outs, brought to your local cineplex by the Tate Modern and MOMA—with one clip showing MOMA staff figuring out the best designs for gift-shop items—to realize that big galleries and museums are mega-corporations now, hashtagging, cross-media marketing, brand building. But Aleksandr Sokurov’s Francofonia, drifting in and out of the Louvre, reminds us that many a major museum, like Paris’s sprawling underground bunker of art, are treasure chests of war booty.
Sokurov’s approach, as in Russian Ark (his 2002 tour of the Hermitage), can be affected, even pretentious: photos of Tolstoy and Chekhov, dead or near death, as these 19th-century “fathers” of the 20th “asleep”; red-capped Marianne or bicorn-wearing Napoleon (whose wars plundered so many works for the art-palace) pop up; Sokurov video-chatting with a captain, shipping art, caught in a storm. But that latter scenario leads the director, in this cine-essay, to his overarching metaphor of the ocean—amid the vast sea of Paris lies the Louvre, once wracked by the storm of the Second World War. Offering re-enactments of wartime meetings between Louvre director Jacques Jaujard and Count Franz Wolff-Metternich—who never executed his superiors’ orders to export the art to Nazi Germany—Sokurov (born into a military officer’s family six years after the Soviet Union’s “Great Patriotic War” against Hitler ended) isn’t so interested in the Louvre and its works as he is in broader musings on European culture, the continent’s most devastating war, art’s relation to power, and Jaujard and Wolff-Metternich’s curious collaboration.
And so this docudrama only really pulses to life when Sokurov contrasts the fairly placid occupation of Paris (most of the Louvre’s art was removed to various country homes) with the hellish siege of Leningrad (where the Hermitage had become both sarcophagus and fortress). Sokurov offers drawings and paintings and photos of halls in the Louvre, but this is far from any promo tour of the world’s largest gallery-museum. Unfortunately, as one man’s idiosyncratic rumination on not just the Louvre during the Occupation but how the Louvre occupies Europe’s imagination, Francofonia’s only intermittently interesting.
Fri, Jun 10 – Tue, Jun 14
Directed by Aleksandr Sokurov
Metro Cinema at the Garneau