Francofonia: The Louvre Pyramid by Aleksandr Sokurov
by Bénédicte Prot
- VENICE 2015: Through the joint efforts of two curators to save the Louvre from the devastation of the Second World War, the Russian maestro brings us a strong and moving ode to art, Europe and beauty
In Russian Ark [+see also:
film profile], thirteen years ago, Aleksandr Sokurov took us on a stroll through the Russian State Hermitage Museum and 400 years of Russian history in one single, masterful sequence shot with near on a thousand actors and just as many extras. In Francofonia [+see also:
film profile], being screened in competition at the 72nd Venice Film Festival, the walk, which takes place in the Louvre, is a little different, and is accompanied by a growing sense of urgency.
This time, our Noah of art, an eternal and unguarded witness to the grandeur and beauty of civilisations, in particular European civilisation, uses his own voice (and his silhouette from behind as he sits in front of a webcam, the image generated by which becomes more and more blurred as the ship goes down) to tell us two stories: the fictitious story of a captain whose ship, full of works of art, is going down, and the true story of two enemies, a Frenchman and a representative of the Nazi occupying forces, who together, saved the huge estate encompassing, in the heart of the only town that the Führer spared, the ancient Chateau of the Kings of France and its recently unearthed ancient foundations under the faceless Winged Victory of Samothrace.
Because art – the sublime expression of the soul of peoples, an illustration of cultures – has often been the object of hate but also of desire of warriors and dictators, in the last century, of one world war to the next, during which the Germans went back to practising "Kunstschutz". This need to preserve cultural heritage led Franziskus Wolff-Metternich to forge an alliance with Jacques Jaujard, the then director of the Louvre since 1939, in Paris during the Occupation. In his tribute to the transcendant work of these two men, Sokurov himself superimposes works, symbols (like that of Marianne running between paintings), pages of history (such as the Napoleonic wars and their majestic trophies, the legacies of civilisations that no longer exist), textures, pixels, archive images and spectacular aerial views in which Paris, eternally magnificent, takes on the bluish hues of an engraving from yesteryear: it stands tall, like a pyramid in which each stone is an epic in itself, sometimes tragic, sometimes heroic, a sensitive and resounding ode to our culture, alive and well to this day.
As he told Cineuropa, in this film the Russian maestro is portraying both a shipwreck and a rescue, because it is impossible to talk about life without death, yet he mentions neither one nor the other. Likewise, whilst his elegy seems to be dedicated to the people, to the masses as opposed to individuals, what he’s looking for in the faces of stone, the pigments on canvas, is the faces of men. In a sense, everything is there in the question posed by the shipwreck that Sokurov watches on his computer screen: what should be saved first, the works of art or the men? The men who produce the works or the works through which they achieve immortality? The question is both fundamental and ludicrous. Everything fades away, when seen from above. As this little man, quietly talking to himself surrounded by his books, who admits that he fears his film will be a failure, leads us to reflect on beauty. The rest is just noise and fury, or silence.
(Translated from French)