My favourite documentaries are those by Georges Franju and Alain Resnais, and I wonder if the one influenced the other?
Resnais’ epic TOUT LES MEMOIRES DU MONDE, about the National Library of France, seen as a giant hive-mind, a paper brain, a prison for ideas, has a visual splendour that anticipates the prowling camera of MARIENBAD. The use of moving camera, broken by sudden and percussive static shots, seems to have a lot in common with Franju’s HOTEL DES INVALIDES, which I’ve just managed to see.
Both films profile a building/institution in Paris, and deploy omniscient narration and the aforementioned camera style. In addition, both have strident and aggressive scores, which makes more obvious sense in the case of Franju’s portrayal of a military museum and nursing home for disabled veterans. The discordant, martial sound of Resnais’ library is a feature students often point to with puzzlement when I share the movie with them. I think it works marvelously with the epic tone the movie takes, in which impressive statistics are piled upon outrageously enormous and heavy metaphors. It’s a film which deploys sheer bigness as an idea.
The Franju is shorter and maybe less ambitious, but still poetic and thought-provoking. As with LES SANG DES BETES, knowing that he’s got some strong stuff to come, the director seems to delight in beginning in as dull a fashion as possible, profiling the building’s exterior from every angle, and following the flights of pigeons overhead (Franju does love his birdlife). The crippled and disfigured former soldiers will come later, but they’re used sparingly and, I think, respectfully.
A choir of young voices greets us after we’ve toured the museum and church (slogan: “Heaven lies in the shadow of swords.”) “What’s that?” asks a girl as a column of schoolchildren are marched past.”
Her boyfriend replies, “It’s just the children, drilling.”