The Louvre underwent substantial renovations in the 1980’s and this film, Louvre City, is a narrationless, almost authorless, documentary offering from French director Nicolas Philibert. It shows the public what happens behind the scenes of one of the world’s most famous galleries. There isn’t much in the way of story or plot, or even fascinating imagery, in this documentary. It’s a straightforward, journalistic telling of events that unfold in front of us on screen, and that’s it.
There are lots of memorable images in the film, one of which is the scene of a decorator who has been contracted to paint the walls around the paintings, but actually ends up admiring the works on display. It’s quite a touching scene and reveals one of the central questions of this film – who is the artist? Is the artist the person who creates the piece? The person who places the piece in it’s proper home? Or the person who documents the history of the piece? One also can’t help but think that the decorator has much in common with the artist whose work he is painting around, as he considers the patch of wall he needs to paint next.
The films works beautifully on many, many levels. One is its simplicity; it’s just like being there in the gallery. Film is an absurd medium but this piece actually makes you forget that you’re sitting in front of a screen, nearly thirty years after the event, watching people who are now either old or dead go about their business. It is hypnotic in its simplicity, and is a perfect example of its genre. On a more superficial level, it is also a perfect time capsule for the fashions and modes of the time. When released, the film was a singular vision of the mysterious, strange world of the art gallery. As it has matured, it has become a wholly other thing – a wormhole into the past, a crisp and clear view of a disappeared time that is unencumbered by outdated music, title sequences, or voice over. It’s purity is its greatest strength.