Blu-ray: Francofonia

FrancoDVDSTUDIO: Music Box | DIRECTOR: Alexander Sokurov | CAST: Louis-Dode Lencquesaing, Benjamin Utzerath, Vincent Nemeth, Johanna Korthals
6/28/16 | PRICE: DVD $20.16, Blu-ray $24.19
BONUSES: two featurettes, Sokurov press conference at Venice Film Festival
SPECS: NR | 87 min. | Documentary drama | 2.35:1 widescreen | DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1/Dolby Digital 5.1 | French, German and Russian with English subtitles

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Movie | Audio | Video  | Overall

With Francofonia, Alexander “Russian Ark” Sokurov takes his meditative lens into the Louvre, where art and history collide in a personal exploration of the Parisian museum. Mixing historical documentation with fantasized recreations, Sokurov brings us back to World War II and the Nazi occupation of France that made them the owners of the world’s greatest collection of art, revealing an amazing story between Jacques Jaujard, director of France’s National Museums at the time, and Count Franziskus Wolff-Metternich, German-Art-Historian-turned-Nazi-Officer who was given the task of managing this one-of-a-kind collection. Music Box’s Blu-ray edition gives you a gorgeous, tactile look at the Louvre and its myriad works, bringing Sokurov’s visual thought-poem to life in all its HD glory.

Unfortunately for Sokurov, Francofonia is upstaged by the much more fascinating The Man Who Saved the Louvre, an award-winning documentary included in the disc that covers the same historical material in a deeper and more straightforward way. It’s interesting that what’s basically a TV documentary composed of talking heads and archival material manages to trump a self-consciously über-art film, but Sokurov’s meditation, while stylish and clever, falls short on the content side. His fascination with the Louvre, Napoleon, and Marianne (France’s Liberté, Equalité, Fraternité in the flesh) as symbols of everything he wants to ramble on about can’t compete with the fascinating world history that he touches on but never quite realizes: when Wolff-Metternich takes over the Louvre, he is inheriting an almost empty building; Jaujard has wisely packed and shipped most of this priceless collection off for safe keeping. As the war trudges on, requests from Hitler and other high-ranking officials for specific art pieces are met with excuses and delays by Wolff-Matternich, who heroically tries every delaying tactic he can think of in order to keep this amazing collection away from greedy Nazi hands.

Francofonia-1_optThat’s about all you gleam from Francofonia. By contrast, The Man Who Saved the Louvre spins a rich, true-to-life tale that couldn’t have been more dramatic had it come from a Hollywood screenwriter. First of all, for Jaujard to have the foresight and vision of pre-emptively transporting the Mona Lisa and other irreplaceable masterpieces was nothing short of genius, especially when you consider the logistics involved in moving statues, wall-sized paintings and more, some 75 years ago. He sent them to mansions all over France, had them secretly guarded and cared for, and moved them around every so often when they were in danger of being discovered (or bombed!). Meanwhile, Wolff-Metternich risked not just his career, but his life, subtly defying orders and giving his superiors the runaround to ensure this amazing collection remained intact. The two were silent conspirators, wearing different uniforms but clearly fighting on the same side… and that’s just one part of this fascinating story.

Yes, Francofonia itself is worth a screening, but it is little more than an artsy meditation done without much creative inspiration. The storytelling devices he mixes in are an awkward mishmash that never really come together. It’s all very beautiful—with elegant touches like the dramatization of Jaujard and Wolff-Metternich’s quirky relationship—but the real gem is The Man Who Saved the Louvre. Watch it before Hollywood turns this story into another uninspired biopic.

Also on the disc is an odd “making of” featurette composed of behind-the-scenes footage and nothing else—no narration or formal interviews—for better and for worse.

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About Memo

Memo Salazar attempts many things and accomplishes few. His big three are making films, music, and comics, but he'll throw photography, graphic design and film criticism into the ring for good measure. He'll even make you a hand-painted t-shirt if you ask nicely. You can track his activity here when there's nothing else to do at work.