Film Scouts Reviews

"Citizen Langlois"

by Henri Béhar

Like Charles Foster Kane, Henri Langlois built an empire. Unlike Charles Foster Kane, he never owned it: WE did. WE do. For that empire is one of the heart, of the mind, of the soul. It is the Cinematheque Française, which he founded in 1936, and beyond it, the very notion of film conservation and film libraries.

When movies were deemed cheap and disposable entertainment, Langlois considered them a full-fledged art form. He had begun collecting films and saving them in the family bathroom at the age of fourteen. Thirty years later, the Cinematheque represented the largest collection of films in the world, with 60,000 titles, compared at the time to 15,000 in Moscow and 5,000 at the New York's Museum of Modern Art. Jean Cocteau called Langlois "the dragon who guards our treasures", others "the third LumiËre brother" and Jean-Luc Godard said that, "Without him, Lumiere, Melies, Griffith, von Stroheim and others would have died twice." For unlike studios that kept their archives locked in graveyard-like bunkers, Langlois insisted that the films be shown.

In February 1968, he was fired by the Ministry of Culture and hastily reinstated when the entire international film industry took to the streets of Paris in the first huge demonstration of the late '60s. Weaving archival documents and film clips as if they were scenes he had shot--a documentarian, therefore, approaching his material as if he were a fiction filmmaker--Edgardo Cozarinsky draws a fascinating (albeit sometimes glossed over) portrait of a man (born in 1914, dead in 1977), that of an idea, and the fusion of the two, i.e. that of a myth.

The story of a passion, "Citizen Langlois" is also a timely reminder that if genius without organization can be a mess, organization without genius is death.

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