A Trip to the Louvre x2, 2004

Resonating in a similar vein as the organically meditative – though less ethereal – cultural elegies of Aleksandr Sokurov (specifically, Elegy of a Voyage and Russian Ark or a stylistically flattened early Alain Resnais art documentary (most notably, Van Gogh and Guernica), A Trip to the Louvre seems on the surface to be devoid of elements that bear the signature of a Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet film: the emotive (if not histrionic) voice-over of an off-screen narrator replaces the tempered, atonal, alienated speech of a Straub/Huillet protagonist; the baroque images of European classical art replace the spare mise-en-scène; the absence of implicit social radicalization in the context of the film. Nevertheless, upon closer inspection (and aided by visual repetition since the film is presented in two near identical parts, with modulations on the opening and concluding sequences – the latter, repurposed from their earlier film Ouvriers, paysan), the film inevitably resolves into more familiar Straub/Huillet terrain of converging sensual, emotional, and cerebral engagement and challenging the aesthetic notions (and interrelations) of beauty, truth, and realism.

Adapted from the biography of Paul Cézanne by Aix-en-Provence poet and admirer Joachim Gasquet, the film presents a series of paintings from the Louvre shot in long takes from a stationary camera as an off-screen female narrator (Julia Kolta) assumes an impassioned first-person observation and criticism of the artworks in a distancing (gender inconguent) voice performance as Cézanne. A painting is shown in its tableaux-like physical tactileness, but appears before the viewer as an image reproduction: the mutation from object (and inorganic performer) to image occurring between the apparatus of the camera and the human eye. A highlighted detail, often a seemingly trivial subscene from a richly detailed and complex work such as Veronese’s The Marriage at Cana, is shot through the proportionality of the overarching image such that the contextual aspect is preserved within the totality of the visible camera – and canvas – frame, but appears microcosmically autonomous from it. Eschewing works that seek the idealization – and therefore, negation of the human essence – of the physical body through formalized gestures, embellishment, and impossible symmetry, Cézanne delights in the realism of voluptuous forms, textures, and incidental serendipity that elevate the quotidian to the sublime, the transfiguration of image reproduction to humanist work of art, the perfection of the imperfect.

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