Tuesday, 26 January 2016


Art through the eyes of an artist: an experience of education and enlightenment, and also an exercise in solipsistic indulgence. Aleksandr Sokurov has forever traded in bedazzlement and befuddlement, but while the purpose of Francofonia feels sound, the intentions behind it naturally evident in this wondrous catalogue of sumptuous artworks, its delivery is fundamentally wrong. Truly, the last thing that any of Sokurov's films needs is a sensation of triviality; Francofonia is as restless, as ephemeral, as innately indistinct as anything he's done before, but it's all undercut by a jarring inconsequentiality. The director's rambling narration neither illuminates nor compliments, blighted by insights that feel alternately obvious and irrelevant, and musings on art and history that come across far more narcissistic than they ought to, coming from one of cinema's most singular artists himself. The flippancy that this inspires in the film only encourages distance on the viewer's part, rendering Francofonia less the immersive experience it was surely intended to be, more of an unfocused essay piece. Dips into modern abstraction don't work well; better are the scripted scenes, where Sokurov's inimitable appreciation of how to link the complexity of human thought and emotion with a legitimate, unintrusive artistic scheme is allowed to flourish. And the film is sprinkled with moments of genuine inspiration and dramatic pull - it's far from a write-off. But perhaps so direct a focus on something much more easily distinguishable than human psychology has proved too simplistic, too distinct for this filmmaker, whose idiosyncratic indistinction does little to flatter it.