Le Musée imaginaire d'Henri Langlois

3 out of 5 stars
Le musée imaginaire de Henri Langlois
© Enrico Sarsini Langlois transportant des bobines de film

If the Cinémathèque Française's film programme rarely misfires, its exhibitions often fall a little flat. Between occasional stunners – the German Expressionism season comes to mind – we've seen some decidedly mediocre exhibitions that hardly managed to be more enlightening than your average DVD bonus featurette. Their latest venture, an homage to the Cinémathèque's legendary founder Henri Langlois (1914-1977), rises above the mean, even if it occasionally veers toward cloying hagiography.

Langlois, who would have turned 100 this year, began his career in cinema by hoarding film reels that were destined for the bin. This instinct for conservation would shape his life – at a time when few gave thought to the legacy of film, he was already on his way to founding one of the first archives dedicated to the medium (which narrowly escaped total annihilation by the Nazis). But it was in the postwar era, when he began programming film seasons at his newly established Cinémathèque, that Langlois found his true calling: a cultural omnivore who screened everything from anarchist cinema to animated films, he turned his cinema into the most radical cultural centre in the country. Before long, the future Young Turks of French New Wave cinema – Truffaut, Godard, Rivette – were flocking to the Cinémathèque on a daily basis.

The Musée du Cinéma, conceived by Langlois himself, does a decent job of conveying the passions and concerns of its founder. After a by-the-numbers biographical section, the exhibition takes a look at Langlois's multidisciplinary approach to the artform: his fondness for various media, and hence for films that breach the conventions of straightforward narrative cinema, are underlined. Unsurprisingly, it's all played very safe and straightforward, displaying little of its subject's radical inventiveness; but as a profile of a visionary who saw the art in cinema before others did, it will engage anyone who takes an interest in what the French call the Seventh Art.

Open Mon, Wed and Sat noon-7pm, Thu noon-10pm and Sun 10am-8pm

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