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Francofonia

Directed by Aleksandr Sokurov

France, 2015

HOME, 13 November 2016

Francofonia

The poster calls the film ‘an elegy for Europe’ – well, kind of.

There is a strand of elegy here, certainly, and what else? Some Nazis milling about the City of Light. Marianne and Napoleon in the Louvre. She spouting ‘Liberty, Equality, Fraternity’: French and therefore European values, don’t you know? He pointing to a painting of his coronation as (Holy Roman?) Emperor and bragging: ‘That’s me, that is.’

‘What would Europe be without portraiture?’ Sokurov asks: an interesting question, for the face almost always elicits an empathy. And he shows us portraits in the Louvre alongside footage of the faces of prisoners of war, soldiers and refugees. The faces of people who are long dead. Muslims don’t have portraiture in their (non-figurative) art, he points out in his helpful voiceover. A nice move: let’s emphasise the differences between cultures, see where that gets us.

Sokurov, who is Russian, reminds us that Nazi Germany treated Soviet Russia much more harshly than they ever did France, their European brothers, in World War Two. And we know why: the Commissar Order, the Judeo-Bolshevik myth, all of that. True enough about the Germans, but he omits to mention that the Russians treated the Ukrainians and the Poles and various Baltic states very harshly as well.

Is Russia part of Europe? Who decides what Europe is, anyway? When Britain voted for Brexit, Angela Merkel made a remark to the effect that we, the Brits, were now no longer part of ‘the European family’, a curious echo of Nazi eugenics. That’s your answer right there, then, and an answer to Walter Abisch’s great novel (How German Is It?): Germany decides what Europe is and whether a particular nation is part of it, now (in 2016) as then (in the 1940s).

We don’t see a swastika flying on the Eiffel Tower in this film, so Sokurov missed a trick there. Otherwise it’s a finely wrought, provocative film. Well worth a look-see.

 

 

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