Francofonia (12A)

Will Capuano goes back in time to Nazi-occupied France to review this documentary on the life of the Louvre art museum - is it the equivalent of watching WWII paint dry, or is there more to this literal arthouse film?

Will Capuano
28th November 2016

Francofonia is the first arthouse film I’ve ever watched, so it was a pretty interesting experience to say the least. Based on a brief glance at the IMDb synopsis before entering the theatre, I expected a pretty standard documentary about the Louvre during Nazi occupation, but it turned out that that topic serves more as a vague foundation for the film than its main plot.

I was pleasantly surprised to find in Francofonia a charming little film that doesn’t really have a specific plot but rather is a non-linear series of introspective meditations on various aspects of art, culture, and history.

The film does have a rather slow and perplexing opening 10 minutes, but once it gets going it’s thoroughly interesting till the end. The film is stylistically beautiful; most of the film consists of narration over interspersions of calming shots inside the galleries of the Louvre, quaint archive footage of 1940s Paris, delightfully immersive dramatised scenes convincingly rendered to imitate grainy sepia footage, and metaphorical dialogue exchanges between Napoleon Bonaparte and Marianne, the national French symbol of liberty and reason.

Through this medium of filmmaking Sokurov presents a series of contemplations about the uses and abuses of art throughout history – focussing on the Nazis’ exploitative agenda that came with being in control of the centre of world culture – but providing various meditations on the philosophy of art and civilization itself.

Francofonia was certainly an enjoyable experience but it might not be everyone’s cup of tea. Then again, I don’t think those who aren’t normally into this sort of thing should be too daunted considering I enjoyed my first arthouse film experience.

As my artist housemate Jed Buttress (who watched it with me) remarked, “It wasn’t an art film because it made sense and it was actually good.” So if you fancy a film trip that’s as culturally enriching as going to a gallery, why not head over to Tyneside and give Francofonia a watch?

Rating: 4/5

More like this: Russian Ark (2002)

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