Alain Resnais passed through Van Gogh, Goya, Picasso and Gauguin in early documentaries, but didn't arrive at a questioning view of art until he and Chris Marker saw African figurines caged in Parisian glass booths. The exhibition is presented in inky darkness, the tracking camera throws a spotlight on each of the works: Miniature warriors arranged in a row, stony creatures facing each other, a shield with its mouth agape and a flat dish with protruding peepers. Masks, both of fertility and death, are the main motif (one skinny, elongated visage is regarded with a vertical pan, another is bulbous and floats towards the lenses), but their eyes appear dead -- the narrator (Jean Négroni) draws a direct line between the museum and the bazaar, yet the place is more like a cemetery, a site of images robbed of their meaning, "objets morts," phantoms. "Objects die when living eyes see them no more," and the deadening heft of French colonialism is felt as the spiritual value of the African statues gives way to shallow tourist contemplation. African footage shows a gorilla collapsing from a stomach wound, then the production of cultural talismans for shallow western consumption, with very ambivalent appearances by François Mitterrand and the Pope; the portrait of a black Virgin Mary heralds the end of original art, Sugar Ray Robinson in the ring suggests some kind of new beginning. Resnais took the various meanings in flux as his favored structure (along with the white mice for Mon Oncle d'Amérique), Marker took the museum for La Jetée, Sembene recalled the displaced masks for Black Girl's confrontational stinger. Cinematography by Ghislain Cloquet. In black and white.
--- Fernando F. Croce