Three more cracking films. Francofonia, Youth and Sunset Song. The first was a mesmerising mixture of Skype messaging, archive film footage, montage and docudrama, all with a voice-over in a language I did not recognise but suspect might have been Eastern European or even Russian.
Francofonia was a homage to Paris and specifically The Louvre, but it travelled from many points. It will be nearly impossible to make the case for how good it was in words, partly because it was so visual, but also because it was so mixed up. The Skyping was between a Ship’s Captain, Dirk, this is a container ship in heavy seas and on board, among other things is a crate from a museum with valuable art works. It is not completely clear from where to where, but that is insignificant.
Then there is a meditation upon the Western European passion for portraiture, how looking at the faces of the past we can understand ourselves better and differently. Then there is a view of Paris, homing eventually upon the buildings that comprise The Louvre. The archive footage was mostly of the Occupation in World War II, so scenes of the Germans in Paris, and the refugees fleeing South, Petain etc. The treasures of The Louvre having been moved to safety, the Director Jacques Jaujard (Louis-Do de Lancquesaing) is required to handover to the Germans the control of all French art works, museums and places of cultural and historical interest, this is Franz Wolff-Metternich (Benjamin Utzerath). These scenes were all reconstructed as accurately as possible.
Finally there were scenes with Napoléon Bonaparte (Vincent Nemeth) and Marianne. Bonaparte was there because of course, as he pointed out The Louvre is filled with his trophies from war. There has been an agreement that where possible antagonist combatants would respect the works of art and buildings… Hitler followed this principle and when the French capitulated Paris was declared an “open city”; this agreement did not sadly apply to Russian art treasures for some reason and The Hermitage and Leningrad Museums and Galleries were mercilessly destroyed, and not those alone. Archive footage showed the damage to The Hermitage and also the grosser effects of the Siege of Leningrad.
I cannot do justice to this film, it was enlightening, compelling, interesting and magnificent. It belongs in the DOCUMENTARY COMPETITION Section and was directed by Alexander Sokurov.
Youth was an entirely different film. hugely enjoyable and a stellar cast including Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel. They play two elderly men who for several decades have had a holiday in a Swiss Spa, a deluxe outfit with every treatment you can imagine. Caine has been the renowned conductor and composer, Fred Ballinger, and is retired; Keitel is the film director, Mick Boyle, making a new movie with one big star, the big star turns out to be Brenda Morel, played by Jane Fonda. The rest of the cast are equally mouthwatering. It is very funny, The Queen’s Emissary (Alex MacQueen) comes to ask if Ballinger will play for Prince Philip’s birthday party and is astonished to discover that the composer is not going to. MacQueen does ‘obsequious’ and ‘surprise’ as no other, it is a gem of a performance. The scenes between MacQueen and Caine are priceless, also the scenes between Ballinger and his daughter (Rachel Weisz). There is humour, pathos, anger and grief…it will come to a cinema near you. See it for yourself. You are worth it!!!!
Finally Terence Davies new offering, Sunset Song. An adaptation of the 1930s novel by Lewis Grassic Gibbon, of which this is the first part of a trilogy covering the early years of Chris Guthrie (Agyness Deyn) who is a schoolgirl at the beginning of the film and a young widow of twenty by the end. Another sob-fest, another tremendous film and another tremendous cast: Peter Mullan as Chris’s brutal father, Jack Greenlees as her brother, Kevin Guthrie as her husband. This is also in the OFFICIAL COMPETITION Section.