VENICE (Reuters) - Russian director Alexander Sokurov, who won the top Venice Film Festival prize for "Faust" in 2011, is in the running again with "Francofonia", a tour of the Louvre museum guided in part by Napoleon and Marianne, the symbol of the French republic.
The film, co-produced with the French museum, is Sokurov's second foray into inventive cinematic looks at the inner workings of a great museum.
His "Russian Ark" of 2002 covered the history of the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, from tsarist times to the present, with the technical panache of shooting the entire movie, from start to finish, in one take.
Sokurov's latest won generally favorable reviews and as of Friday was the favored film to win the top Golden Lion award on Saturday in a poll of Italian film critics and newspapers published in a daily festival newsletter.
Sokurov told Reuters in an interview that he was drawn to create movies about great museums because they are repositories of the world's culture, and to the Louvre in particular because "it's a theater in itself, it's like Shakespeare...It is a wonderful setting for the film".
Sokurov tells the history of the museum -- which opened to the public in 1793 during the French Revolution -- in part through the eyes of Napoleon played by actor Vincent Nemeth. Napoleon is quoted in the film as saying one of the reasons for his conquests was to gain access to artworks.
Napoleon shows up several times, pointing to himself as he is portrayed in various paintings, while Marianne (Johanna Korthals Altes) urges the camera forward while shouting the slogan of the revolution, "Liberty, equality, fraternity".
Sokurov said that what Napoleon, and the other great patrons of the Louvre, had realized was that world art is a fragile treasure that must be protected for posterity.
He emphasizes this in the film by showing a cargo ship loaded with what are said to be containers of precious artworks, foundering in heavy seas.
The film does not explicitly mention the recent depredations of the Islamic State militant group, blowing up priceless art works in Syria and Iraq, but Sokurov's cameras slyly show Assyrian art works, to make the point.
"Art is a helpless child -- we need him and we created him and he never grows up," Sokurov said. "Art has its father and its mother and creators but it's sort of a helpless child that needs to be protected all the time."
Additional reporting by Mike Davidson; Writing by Michael Roddy; Editing by Mark Heinrich