This contemplative but unpretentious film goes behind-the-scenes at the Louvre museum. Director Nicolas Philipert documents a vibrant community--an entire world--that tourists never see.
Movie Grade: A-
DVD Grade: B
The Louvre Museum in Paris is nothing if not imposing. Imperious, even, with its enormous collection housed within the walls of a centuries old palace and Parisian landmark. The most visited museum in the world, and almost the largest, is a monument to high culture, a temple at which the artists of the Western canon are worshipped by aesthetes and tourists alike. In 1990, veteran documentary filmmaker Nicolas Philipert took a crew behind-the-scenes at the world's moset famous museum for La Ville Louvre and found a city unto itself, a bustling and active community carrying on before the tourists ever show up.
Being a chronic and congenital misser-of-points, my first thoughts when encountering a particularly large and weighty painting tend to involve the complications inherent in transporting and mounting such an object. My evaluation of aesthetics tends to come a close second to thoughtful observations along the lines of: “That looks really heavy!” and “How’d they get that in here?” and “They better have that tacked up there good!” That’s not what Louvre City is about, precisely, although there is plenty to interest the logistically minded. It’s really about the life behind the façade of any great institution, whether it be a university, hospital, or business. Given its geographical size, number of staff, and the sheer volume of its collection, the Louvre isn’t merely a glorified portrait gallery: it’s a city unto itself. Director Nicolas Philibert begins in the extensive catacombs beneath the main palace structure, following just a few of hundreds of employees through the course of a working day. The functions, cultures, and practical needs of any community are present within the museum walls.
As laborers drag portraits from one room to the next, figures from some of the greatest works of the ages look on with varying degrees of concern and disinterest. While the Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo earn pride of place, the rest look as though they’re used to being carted around to become part of a new display, or to being shipped off to the basement in order to make room for a new exhibition. In Philibert’s view, they’re something other than masterpieces: they’re onlookers to the hustle of a vibrant city. Without a tourist in sight, executives argue over painting placement. Docents and ticket-takers complain about the (yes, rather ugly) uniforms. Restorers and conservationists focus on each dot of paint on their current projects, while archivists struggle to keep track of all of the items in the vast and ancient sub-levels beneath the museum proper. Workmen hang paintings and drag sculptures around, and the cafeteria staff prepares to feed them all. It's a behind-the-scenes in some respects, and obviously dated as such, but it's also rather something more than that, as well.
There's remarkably little dialogue, and the Louvre staff do an excellent job of ignoring what look to be rather obtrusive cameras. The director and film crew aren't much in attendance at all, at least to the film viewer, and allow people to go about their business with no editorializing. Only some subtle and sly music cues underline the contemplative, but unpretentious proceedings. The only disc extra from Kino is a grainy vintage trailer, and the film and audio quality are fine but entirely unremakable. This is a quiet doc, and not to all tastes, but it's a clever take on the film tradition of documenting the life of a community.