Review: Distractions cloud good story in ‘Francofonia’

Tom Long
The Detroit News

Sometimes the bizarre can illuminate the poignant, sometimes it distracts. In “Francofonia” it most definitely distracts.

Narrated by Russian director Aleksandr Sokurov in heavy, dark intonations, “Francofonia” is a meditation on the importance of museums, most specifically the Louvre in Paris. For those who persevere — and perseverance is needed — past the film’s jumble of opening scenes, it also turns out to be a history of two men who helped preserve the Louvre’s treasures after the Nazis occupied Paris in World War II.

One of those men, not surprisingly, was the French civil servant in charge of the museum, Jacques Jaujard (Louis-Do de Lencquesaing). More surprising is the aid provided by the German officer Franz Wolff-Metternich (Benjamin Utzerath), who kept his countrymen from stealing off with the art that had been displayed in the Louvre.

Which sounds far more linear than “Francofonia” is. Sokurov narrates from a cramped office somewhere while also trying to Skype with the captain of a ship, which is going through a storm in unknown waters. And there’s a female ghost (Johanna Korthals Altes) who prances through the empty halls of the Louvre repeatedly talking about freedom and equality.

And then there’s Napoleon (Vincent Nemeth). Sure, why not? He, too, wanders the halls of the empty museum, basically taking credit for everything there.

If one can get past all the silliness and pretension, which takes some serious pushing, there is a rather nice story — cleverly put together with documentary footage, historical narration and imagined re-enactments — about two men who were devoted to preserving art and the museum. But “Francofonia” is terribly over-directed and seems strange just for the sake of being strange.

Tom Long is a longtime culture critic.




Not rated

Running time: 88 minutes