Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
Zack Snyder Defends 'Man Of Steel' Finale, Ben Affleck Reveals Bruce Wayne Knew People Who Died In That Battle Zack Snyder Defends 'Man Of Steel' Finale, Ben Affleck Reveals Bruce Wayne Knew People Who Died In That Battle New Book Contends Eric Stoltz Was “Difficult” & The Cast Wasn’t Shocked He Was Replaced On ‘Back To The Future’ New Book Contends Eric Stoltz Was “Difficult” & The Cast Wasn’t Shocked He Was Replaced On ‘Back To The Future’ Watch: Scott Lang Wants To Call The Avengers In New International 'Ant-Man' Trailer Watch: Scott Lang Wants To Call The Avengers In New International 'Ant-Man' Trailer Zack Snyder Reveals The Easter Egg Idea He Pitched Christopher Nolan And David Goyer For 'Man Of Steel' Zack Snyder Reveals The Easter Egg Idea He Pitched Christopher Nolan And David Goyer For 'Man Of Steel' New Images Of Bruce Wayne, Lex Luthor, More In 'Batman v. Superman,' Ben Affleck Compares Batman To Hamlet New Images Of Bruce Wayne, Lex Luthor, More In 'Batman v. Superman,' Ben Affleck Compares Batman To Hamlet Mads Mikkelsen And Hugh Dancy Released From Their 'Hannibal' Contracts Mads Mikkelsen And Hugh Dancy Released From Their 'Hannibal' Contracts Paul Thomas Anderson To Write And Possibly Direct Warner Bros' ‘Pinocchio’ For Robert Downey Jr. Paul Thomas Anderson To Write And Possibly Direct Warner Bros' ‘Pinocchio’ For Robert Downey Jr. Tom Cruise Still Gearing Up For 'Top Gun 2,' Story Will Involve Drone Warfare Tom Cruise Still Gearing Up For 'Top Gun 2,' Story Will Involve Drone Warfare Watch: First Trailer For Oliver Stone’s ‘Snowden’ Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Shailene Woodley & Nicolas Cage Watch: First Trailer For Oliver Stone’s ‘Snowden’ Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Shailene Woodley & Nicolas Cage Review: ‘Terminator: Genisys’ Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Emilia Clarke, Jai Courtney & Jason Clarke Review: ‘Terminator: Genisys’ Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Emilia Clarke, Jai Courtney & Jason Clarke 'Thor: The Dark World' Director Alan Taylor Says His Marvel Experience Was "Particularly Wrenching" 'Thor: The Dark World' Director Alan Taylor Says His Marvel Experience Was "Particularly Wrenching" Watch: Anna Paquin Is Rescued In Clip From 'X-Men: Days of Future Past - The Rogue Cut' Watch: Anna Paquin Is Rescued In Clip From 'X-Men: Days of Future Past - The Rogue Cut' Kevin Feige Says 'Spider-Man 2' Is "One Of The Best Superhero Movies Ever," Talks John Hughes Influence On New Spidey Kevin Feige Says 'Spider-Man 2' Is "One Of The Best Superhero Movies Ever," Talks John Hughes Influence On New Spidey Watch: Live Your Ultimate Fantasy With The First NSFW Trailer For Gaspar Noe's 'Love' Watch: Live Your Ultimate Fantasy With The First NSFW Trailer For Gaspar Noe's 'Love' Review & Recap: ‘True Detective’ Season 2, Episode 2, ‘Night Finds You’ Review & Recap: ‘True Detective’ Season 2, Episode 2, ‘Night Finds You’ The 25 Best TV Shows Of The 2014/2015 Season The 25 Best TV Shows Of The 2014/2015 Season The 25 Best Animated Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 25 Best Animated Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 50 Best Films Of The Decade So Far The 50 Best Films Of The Decade So Far The 25 Best Horror Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 25 Best Horror Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 20 Best TV Shows Of The 2013/2014 Season The 20 Best TV Shows Of The 2013/2014 Season

Cannes Review: Frederick Wiseman's Heady, Nourishing Art Doc 'National Gallery'

Photo of Oliver Lyttelton By Oliver Lyttelton | The Playlist May 19, 2014 at 3:42PM

Frederick Wiseman has always been interested, above and beyond anything else, in institutions. The veteran documentarian has, in his nearly 50-year career, pointed his lens at all kinds of social microcosms, from ballet companies and strip clubs, to high schools and the state legislature. Now, hot on the heels of last year's masterpiece "At Berkeley," Wiseman is taking a look at the art world with his latest, "National Gallery."
0
National Gallery
"National Gallery"

Frederick Wiseman has always been interested, above and beyond anything else, in institutions. The veteran documentarian has, in his nearly 50-year career, pointed his lens at all kinds of social microcosms, from ballet companies and strip clubs, to high schools and the state legislature. Now, hot on the heels of last year's masterpiece "At Berkeley," Wiseman is taking a look at the art world with his latest, "National Gallery."

After being turned down by the Met in New York, Wiseman went across the pond and shot in and around the titular National Gallery in London. Located in the famous Trafalgar Square and established in 1824, it plays host to a positive treasure trove of paintings, from pre-Renaissance to the 19th century (leaving more contemporary fare to the Tate galleries). In 2012, during the lengthy post-production on "At Berkeley," Wiseman was granted his usually comprehensive access to the National, and the result is another lengthy epic (three hours, this time) examining almost every facet of the organisation.

In places, the film seems like it'll be a companion piece to "At Berkeley," examining another publicly funded institution trying to find a way to survive in the modern world in the face of cuts, in particular in the engaging scenes where the gallery's head honcho, Nicholas Penny, debates with his team as to whether to allow the gallery's facade to be taken over for a nationally-televised marathon: it would mean huge exposure, but at what cost? There's an amusing snobbishness to these scenes, particularly Penny's sniffy references to a previous team-up with Harry Potter.

As it turns out, Wiseman isn't actually all that interested in the backroom dealings this time out. Indeed, he's not all that interested in the people in general: the focus here is very much on the art itself, as much of the film is made up of mini-lectures from the gallery's employees and experts, with the last hour consisting of almost nothing but. The result is that the film is even more free of narrative than usual ("At Berkeley" built towards a student protest in its final quarter), but you wouldn't want it any other way.

And that's because the film is so stuffed with information. From gold-leafing a picture frame to painting restoration to close analysis of a number of artworks (including, in an accidental nod to another Cannes picture, Turner's "The Fighting Temeraire"), the film serves as a primer on Old Master art history, and scarcely a scene or shot goes by, even the ones without speech, in which you don't learn something (even if this is your specialist subject, you're bound to find some nuggets of knowledge, given that Wiseman has captured some of the world's greatest experts on the area).

But more than anything, it's a film about art, about its power, its multi-faceted nature, and the legacies it can create (there's a fascinating moment as a tour guide admits to a group of multicultural schoolkids that the foundation of the Gallery was funded in part because of the slave trade). And by the same token, it's a film about time and the mark we can leave on the world. That said, we have to say that this is on case where Wiseman's aversion to providing any kind of context might hurt the film rather than help: those not already experts won't necessarily be able to identify the artists or paintings on sight, and relatively few of those on camera introduce what they're talking about. But that's not really the point: you pick up more than enough to make it through, and Wiseman's film is the most nourishing example of cinematic brain food you'll have all year. [B+]

Browse through all our coverage of the 2014 Cannes Film Festival by clicking here.

This article is related to: Frederick Wiseman, Cannes Film Festival, Cannes Directors' Fortnight, Reviews, Review, National Gallery


The Playlist

The obsessives' guide to contemporary cinema via film discussion, news, reviews, features, nostalgia, movie music, soundtracks, DVDs and more.


E-Mail Updates