Aleksandr Sokurov is probably best known for his one-shot documentary/cinematic love letter to The Hermitage Museum, Russian Ark. However, he’s spent much of his directorial career working in narrative fiction. His chief focus has been on people. Almost all his work, including The Sun, Alexandra and The Second Circle, are studies of relationships. In his new documentary Francofonia, whilst he moves the setting and spotlight to The Louvre, the focus is a very human one.
Opening with an allegory, Sukurov speaking to the captain of a ship containing the contents of The Louvre on the perilous high seas, the main story of Francofonia is the period during Nazi-occupied Paris. Whilst Napoleon (Vincent Nemeth) stalks the salons of the august museum, it’s wartime director Jacques Jaujard (Louis-Do de Lencquesaing) whose brave and unstinting efforts protected the collection from plunder or damage.
As the camera travels through the halls of The Louvre, Francofonia raises ethical questions about colonial trophy hunting. This is contrasted against the drive of Hitler, and other senior members of the SS, to ‘collect’ the greatest art of Europe. Sokurov has a habit of wandering off the subject, which means Francofonia can sometimes frustrate and puzzle, but the melding of poetry, documentary and metaphor makes for an instructive and entertaining film.
Francofonia is out in cinemas from Friday.