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Film Review: The Last Vermeer

Director:    Dan Friedkin

Cast:    Claes Bang, Guy Pearce, Roland Møller, Vicky Krieps, August Diehl, Olivia Grant, Adrian Scarborough, Marie Bach Hansen, Andrew Havill, Karl Johnson

Rating:    M

Running Time:    117

Australian Distributor:    Sony Pictures Releasing


The Last Vermeer begins on May 29, 1945, in Austria, with a train car, in a mine, and some soldiers, one of whom puts an explosive pack on the side of the car and blows it off. A surprising gesture, because what’s inside are priceless works of art. They are part of a Nazi cache. And therein, as we know, lie many tales. This mildly entertaining film isn’t the best of those, and it teases us with fascinating material that it distorts, and tells us less about than it might have done. Nonetheless it’s an entertaining watch in its way. At the heart of it is one of modern history’s most fascinating charlatans. 

Watch The Last Vermeer for Guy Pearce’s enjoyable performance. He plays the Dutch forger Han von Meegeren, typically, with the lightest of touches and a slightly wounded elegance. He has impersonated elegant scoundrels before, King Edward VIII, for instance. The focus of the filmmakers takes us off-centre, to the dogged effort by a Jewish ex-resistance fighter, Joseph PIller (The Square’s very tall Danish actor Claes Bang), to save van Meegeren from death for treason, which he suspects would be wrong, and turning him into a momentary hero for duping Hermann Göring in a very big way. Göring paid a record-setting fortune in traded artwork to the forger (137 looted paintings) for Christ with the Adulteress, a fake Vermeer painted by van Meegeren himself.

Having failed with his own work, Dutch artist Van Meegeren was the most successful painting forger in all possible ways: he fooled everybody, and he made a great deal of money doing it. What’s really interesting is that he got away with passing off six forged paintings as Vermeers – that rarest and hardest to forge of artists – and selling them for a fortune. He was rich from his forgeries, and careless of his wealth.

Van Meegeren probably focused mostly on religious themes that Vermeer had touched on early in his career because in an odd way they would arouse less suspicion, being less familiar. The non-religious ones were pretty good.   

But the religious ones? They repeat this same funny-looking full-frontal face of Christ. Why did the experts find these convincing? Apparently, one expert may have led to agreement by another, like dominoes. The exposure of van Meegeren in the trial is said to have generally put in question henceforth e use of expert opinions as proof of artistic authenticity. These experts’ ultimate test at the time was to wipe a corner of the painting with alcohol. If no paint came off, the painting was old. That’s what the movie tell us, anyway. We learn how van Meegeren invented a special medium to produce paintings – on old canvas mounted on old wood – that survived the alcohol-wipe test.

Think about the emotion that these people are feeling. Think about what it would take for you to represent a complete stranger in the fight for their life. As pensive as you may be at the moment, there is no need to imagine those feelings if you watch The Last Vermeer. The performances in this one will leave no doubts in your mind how they each feel.

One must complement Guy Pearce for a terrific performance. The wit and comedic timing he allows to shine through tells so much about the real-life man from back then. I simply cannot imagine anyone else playing this role – he is that good at it. As for the flick itself, the story is a great one and outside of some pacing issues at the onset, The Last Vermeer is absolutely one I will recommend if this type of movie is up your alley. It won’t be for everyone, but it’ll be great for whoever it is for.




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