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A bibliophile’s paradise: the National Library of France in a classic documentary from 1956

Before there was the internet, there was la Bibliothèque nationale de France (the National Library of France) in Paris: an ever-expanding collection of books, manuscripts, maps and other cultural artifacts that has been operating continuously since the 15th century. The documentary Toute la mémoire du monde (All the Memory in the World), made by the influential and celebrated French filmmaker Alain Resnais in 1956, is an astounding tour of the institution before digitisation, when the world’s largest well of information wasn’t at our fingertips, but fastidiously collected and sorted behind library walls. Resnais focuses not only on the imposing scope of the library’s holdings, but also explores the vast enterprise of maintaining it for centuries to come, as well as the facility’s role as a bustling home for curiosity and enquiry. Through moody black-and-white cinematography of the library’s collection, architecture and meticulous processes, the film explores a place that, like human knowledge itself, is ‘destined to be forever a work in progress’. A dramatic score by Maurice Jarre – by turns pulsing, soaring and delicate – acts as a further guide through the labyrinth of the library, and the film itself.

Director: Alain Resnais

Website: The Criterion Collection

11 April 2019

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