NZ International Film Festival Review: Francofonia

NZ International Film Festival Review: Francofonia

Alexander Sokurov, director of the acclaimed, glorified museum tour, Russian Ark, is back to show us through another of the world's great museums – this time, the Louvre in Paris.

Francofonia is much more pared back and contemplative. Sokurov as a narrator ponders the dual role of the museum as historical treasure and political pawn.

"War alone decides where art will end up," he says, as the camera peers into cases of artefacts brought back by Napoleon as the spoils of his various conquests (although it's worth noting the Louvre says its Department of Egyptian Antiquities was not a direct consequence of the Egypt campaign).

The bulk of the film focuses on the inner workings of the Louvre in World War II, during which time the museum was virtually empty, the most significant works moved elsewhere for safekeeping.

Sokurov's disjointed style of narrative, unrestricted by linear time and frequently breaking the fourth wall, creates a general sense of unease about the tenuous working relationship between the French and Germans.

We never quite know which point in time we are supposed to be at, and they frequently merge – the liberal use of antiquated-looking filters bringing a faux-historical quality to contemporary scenes.

As Sokurov wanders the museum philosophising to himself, Napoleon appears as a truculent egotist, pointing out all the works in which he appears.

In the next breath, we are jolted with the horrors of war as the Russian director contrasts Germany's preservation of the Louvre to its destruction of the Hermitage in Saint Petersburg.

Then we are back in the present day, where Sokurov is in his home office, trying to communicate via satellite with a mysterious man named "Dirk", who is trying to transport container loads of precious art in what seems to be an expedition doomed to failure.

Francofonia is hard to follow, yet remains a compelling exploration of the politics of art.

Two-and-a-half stars.

This film is playing as part of the 2016 New Zealand International Film Festival.

     Francofonia:: Director: Aleksandr Sokurov:: Starring: Louis-Do de Lencquesaing (Jacues Jaujard), Benjamin Utzerath (Count Franziskus Wolff-Metternich), Vincent Nemeth (Napolean), Johanna Korthals Altes (Marianne) :: Rating: M - adult themes:: Running Time: 87 minutes

Reviewed by Kim Choe / Newshub.

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