By Daniel Barnes
*Opening tomorrow at the Landmark Opera Plaza in San Francisco and the Rafael Film Center in San Rafael.
Another meta-documentary about a famous museum from Russian Ark director Alexander Sokurov, and seemingly starring the same faceless narrator, but Francofonia is less of a swooning and immersive cinematic experience than a free-range, multi-media essay about the survival of art and culture in an inherently destructive world. Russian Ark focused on the Hermitage Museum in Sokurov’s Russian homeland, and Francofonia concerns the Louvre in Paris, a 12th-century fortress that became the world’s greatest treasure chest of war spoils. A docu-narrative discombobulation of historic footage, new footage, reenactments, photographs, pixellated Skype sessions and drone shots, Francofonia is just too punishingly cerebral and preciously meta-textual to fully embrace (we see a clapper, we hear a director’s voice, we get it…I can appreciate the artificiality of narrative constructs at home, you know), but there’s also too much going on in Sokurov’s head to ignore his tenuously connected ravings. Sokurov seems especially interested in the strangely overlapping agendas of art preservationists and conquerors – the ghost of Napoleon wanders the Louvre halls at night, at one point grabbing the camera-eye by the hand towards his own portrait – and the film lingers longest on the curious collaboration between a French civil servant and a Nazi aristocrat that kept many great works of art away from Hitler’s mitts. If nothing else, Francofonia is some unusual-ass shit, a singular vision in a world of bland homogenization. I just wish I liked it a little more.