Aleksandr Sokurov ponders the history and cultural importance of the Louvre in inimitable style
The museum as a concept is the site of controversy at present, with contention in some quarters that artefacts plundered, bought and bartered in the context of colonisation should be repatriated, and other voices asserting just as strongly that an honest account of human history means leaving cultural spoils where they lie. National, racial and cultural identities themselves, meanwhile, are more fraught matters than ever before; and the value of a classical education comprising a broad awareness of human history and creativity arguably never under more threat.
Now here's Russian cinema's own living legend, Aleksandr Sokurov, to bring his idiosyncratic, enlivening brand of cinematic scholarship to the subject, by way of a history of and meditation upon the most iconic museum of them all, the Louvre. Sound a bit dry? It truly isn't, even if its historical reconstructions can occasionally verge on the twee.
Sokurov made cinema history with 2002's Russian Ark, his breathtaking single-shot ramble through St Petersburg's Hermitage Museum; and this piece, with its roving camera, restless ghosts and emphasis on history as an alive-and-kicking concern, bears clear parallels. The focus upon the Louvre itself, however – as a haunted house, a time capsule and a theatre for the performance of French cultural identity – gives this film its unique character, and will ensure particular fascination for Francophiles.
Certain elements – Sokurov inventing a Skype conversation with the fictional captain of an imperilled ship striving to transport treasures through a storm – may strike some as an eccentricity too far. But, for the most part, his mix of archive footage and re-enactment, and of history, art history and pure conjecture, feels rich and alive: a true conversation with the past, which reminds us that all of what we consider fixed in the canon or forged by history is in place because of specific human personalities and decisions.
Selected release from Fri 11 Nov.