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National Gallery (National Gallery Igirisu no Shiho)
Rating
Director Frederick Wiseman
Language English
Opens Jan. 17

The stock phrase used to describe Frederick Wiseman documentaries is that they’re about “institutions” — such as the Paris Ballet (“La Danse”) or a Californian university (“At Berkeley”) — but at this point, Wiseman himself has become something of an institution. He has been filming in his trademark observational style since the 1960s, and his latest, “National Gallery,” is a deep-focus look at London’s noted art museum in 2012, at the end of its popular Da Vinci exhibition, with Caravaggio and Rembrandt waiting in the wings.

The opening is pure Wiseman, where a montage of various masterworks hanging on the walls cuts away to a dude in jeans who’s waxing the floors. Wiseman’s focus, as always, is on the collective effort that makes such an institution tick, encompassing everyone from the museum’s director down to the impassioned guides. At three hours, it’s a bit windy though, with a barrage of chatter from the critics, curators and guides, who endlessly discuss the artwork in ways both fascinating and facile. This stands in stark contrast to the many shots of museum visitors caught in silent reverie as they commune with a painting.

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