Art direction

Museums getting key parts in films

The two most visited museums in Paris, the Louvre and the Musee d'Orsay, are facing off in an unusual contest — as patrons of the seventh art. In the next two years they will between them underwrite screenplays by seven critically acclaimed international filmmakers for films to be shot — at least partly — inside their walls.

Under its new president, Henri Loyrette, the Louvre is returning to its roots as sponsor of contemporary artists and has named two of the three filmmakers it plans to tap. The first is Taiwan's Tsai Ming Liang, winner of a Silver Bear in Berlin for "The River."

For the first time in its 213-year history, the Louvre will co-produce and co-finance a fiction film, Liang's "Faces." Produced by Paris-based Arena Films, "Faces" will be filmed entirely inside the museum and star veteran Gallic actor Jean-Pierre Leaud. The second filmmaker chosen to work in the hallowed galleries is Alain Cavalier ("Therese").

"Traditional financing in France is drying up for these talented auteurs," says Catherine Derosier-Pouchous, head of the Louvre's audiovisual program. "We want to support their work. We're selecting three filmmakers who will rethink the meaning of cinema in the 21st century."

Across the Seine, the Musee d'Orsay decided to work with filmmakers from four continents as part of its 20th anniversary, says Claire Herlic, the museum's head of audiovisual production. They are France's Olivier Assayas, Chinese-born Hou Hsiao-Hsien, Chile-born veteran Raoul Ruiz and American Jim Jarmusch.

All four films will be produced by local production house Margo Films with budgets around the $3 million mark, financed by Canal Plus and Arte. All will star Juliette Binoche, says Margo's Francois Margolin, executive producer.

The first in the Orsay series, "Red Balloon" directed by Hou, is a tribute to the French classic of the same name about children who chase a red balloon around Paris, only here they follow the balloon into the museum. Films Distribution is handling overseas sales on the film, which is likely to premiere in the spring.

Shooting starts early next year on Assayas' project, which co-stars Francois Cluzet and Charles Berling. Loosely based on Assayas' personal history, the film is about a family who donates art to the Musee d'Orsay. Ruiz has finished the script for his film, which takes place when the museum building was previously a train station and hotel. Several characters return to the hotel (now a restaurant) looking for the ghosts of Jewish relatives who were deported to Germany during World War II.

The trend of museums entering the film business is about more than making "auteur" films, Margolin says. "Though it's probably not conscious, the ripple effects from presenting an image beyond museum walls is about branding — the art collections and the museum — to potential visitors from around the world."