Francofonia (2016; Alexander Sokurov)
By Daniel Barnes
Another meta-documentary about a famous museum from Russian Ark director Alexander Sokurov, and seemingly starring the same faceless narrator. However, 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 most magnificent treasure chest of war spoils. A docu-narrative discombobulation of historical 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, and we hear a director’s voice, we get it. I can appreciate the artificiality of narrative constructs at home, you know.
At the same time, 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, he even grabs the camera-eye by the hand and directs it toward his portrait.
Meanwhile, the film lingers longest on the strange 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 offers some unusual-ass shit, a singular vision in a world of bland homogenization. I only wish I liked it a little more.