Thursday, May 12, 2016

Francofonia [2015]

MPAA (UR would be PG-13)  Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing listing* listing* listing*  (J. Zabaluev) review*
KinoAfisha review* (V.  Rutkowski) review* (X. Ilina) review* (V. Kichin) review* (M. Kuvshinova) review* (V. Morisson) review* (J. Morel) review* (J.C.  Raspiengeas) review* (J. Mandelbaum) review* (C. Gallot) review* (L.E. Forero Varela) review* (P. Weillinski) review*
Slant Magazine (S. Nam) review
The Guardian (P. Bradshaw) review
The Hollywood Reporter (D. Young) review

Francofonia [2015] [IMDb] []*[]*[]* (written and directed by Aleksandr Sukorov [IMDb] []*[]*[]*) is a remarkable FRENCH / DUTCH / GERMAN docudrama-tic / documentary-esque co-production originally commissioned by the Curators of the Louvre Museum in Paris of the renowned RUSSIAN director, already famous for this kind of work, to tell the story of The Louvre during the period of Nazi Occupation (from June 1940 - August 1944).   The film premiered to both acclaim and controversy (some of the Russian critics cited above _gleefully noted_ that the Louvre's curators didn't necesssarily like the final product ;-) at the 2015 (72nd) Venice Int'l Film Festival.

The film recently played in Chicago at the 2016 (19th Annual) European Union Film Festival (a submission to the Festival by FRANCE) and subsequently returned to Chicago's Gene Siskel Film Center for a two week run.  (The film, whose distribution rights are owned in the United States by Music Box Films is currently making a run of similar "Film Centers" and "art houses" across the U.S.)

Again, the Louvre's enlistment of Sukorov [IMDb] []*[]*[]* for this project was NOT "a random one" as he was already famous for a remarkable docudrama-tic cinematic reflection -- entitled Russian Ark (orig. Русский ковчег / Russkiy Kovcheg) [2002] [IMDb] []*[]* -- about the similarly world renowned Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia.  (Though not necessary to appreciate the current film, it's certainly worth the effort to find / view this film as well.  It's available for streaming via Netflix / Fandor as well as for rental in DVD format via mail rental service offered by

The story that Sukorov was enlisted to present here -- how ever one looks at it -- is TRULY an INTRIGUING ONE: Here was The Louvre, both then and now, ONE OF THE FAMOUS MUSEUMS IN THE WORLD one whose collections were/are considered PRICELESS many times over (containing among other things Leonardo Da Vinci's Mona Lisa...), UNDER FOUR YEARS OF NAZI OCCUPATION, that is under a Regime whose leaders were INFAMOUS for LOOTING art (from museums, private citizens, etc) ALL OVER EUROPE.  And YET ... the Louvre's collections SURVIVED the War INTACT.

The big question, of course, is WHY?

To the Russian director Sukorov, it was clear as day that the (French) Director of the Louvre at the time Jacques Jaujard [fr-wikip]*[IMDb] (played in the film by Louis-Do de Lencquesaing [IMDb] []*) and Nazi Era German Cultural Attache to (Occupied) France Count Franz Wolff-Metternich [de-wikip]*[IMDb] (played in the film by Benjamin Utzerath [IMDb] []*) CONSPIRED indeed CONSPIRED TOGETHER to protect The Louvre's Collections from the prying hands of the Nazi leadership.

And the Historical Record does largely bear this out.  In 1938-39, The Louvre's collections had already been evacuated from Paris as a precaution in preparation for War.  When Occupation came, Count Metternich [de-wikip]* just made it "really hard" for the top Nazi leadership to get their hands on them, assuring them simply that the Collections are 'safe'..."

What however bruised / scandalized the Russian director of the current film's sensibilities was that while the Nazis seemed to treat the French art treasures with such respect, they certainly _didn't_ treat the treasures of other nations, NOTABLY of those of the East (... those of the RUSSIANS) with anything EVEN REMOTELY APPROACHING that kind of respect as well

Indeed, in the later part of the film Sukorov narrates (and shows documentary footage of) what happened to the Hermitage Museum (and Leningrad as St. Petersburg was called during the Soviet Era) during the War.  Yes, the Hermitage's art treasures ALSO were evacuated prior to the Nazi two year long siege of Leningrad.  But the Hermitage Museum itself was bombed repeatedly during said siege a siege in which more than a million residents died often of starvation, and many survivors doing so by resorting to cannibalism (at times) to make it through.

The question that Sukorov asks again is: Why?  Why were the French (and THEIR art) respected while the Russians (and theirs) not.

And this is where his film gets controversial: His answer was that the Germans always respected the French MORE than the Russians suggesting that EVEN THE NAZIS were ultimately looking for a "French-German" alliance against ... the Russians.

AND ONE WOULD HAVE TO HAVE BEEN LIVING IN A CAVE for the last several years to NOT understand the Putin era propagandistic messaging being proclaimed here: Russia "once again" is being "punished" / separated from Europe because "Europe has always thought" that it is "better than Russia."

So this was a film about The Louvre that Sukorov somehow made about The Louvre" vs "The Hermitage" and thus even about "The French / Western Europe" vs "The Russians / Eastern Europe."

What I can say is that at least Sukorov did this with some humor ... something that _I do appreciate_ (because often enough Russian films that make it to the West are simply deathly serious and actually perpetuate negative stereotypes that many Westerners would hold against Russians).

Still, the whole episode reminded me of the incident in which Mexican muralist (and leftist) Diego Rivera, commissioned to paint a mural for the then new Rockefeller Center in New York, took the opportunity to paint a mural he entitled Man at the Crossroads that "called on the working man to overthrow the capitalists" ;-).  The Rockefellers refused to allow the mural to be displayed in THEIR BUILDING ;-) and ordered it DESTROYED.  So today, a copy of said mural is PROMINENTLY / PROUDLY displayed in the Palacio de Belles Artes in Mexico City and to this day a fair number of residents of Mexico City still smile-from-ear-to-ear retelling this story of how "one of them" Diego Rivera "stuck it" to the "Gringo Rockefellers" ;-)

So here Sukorov kinda stuck it to the French.  "Za Putina ...!" (OMG, have we come to _that_? ;-)

Still this is a very interesting, surprisingly entertaining, ever thoughtful and ultimately quite provocative film ;-)  Honestly, _if you love movies_, what more can you ask for? ;-)

Great, great job! ;-)

* Foreign language webpages are most easily translated using Google's Chrome Browser. 

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  1. I am currently able to see this review; I know it was targeted unfairly and inaccurately by something called "Wanda Films" in a DMCA takedown.

  2. A link here to the Google product forum discussion about the rather surprising (and arguably suspicious - made perhaps for political and/or commercial reasons) request made to take down _this review_ for unspecified copyright violations. If you're reading this, then you know that the review has since been reinstated.