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"THE LAST VERMEER"
(2020) (Claes Bang, Guy Pearce) (R)


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QUICK TAKE:
Drama: A Dutch Jew tries to determine the authenticity of a valuable painting that ended up in a Nazi official's possession and whether a local painter's claim that it's a forgery is true.
PLOT:

It's a few weeks after the fall of Nazi Germany and Allied forces have discovered artwork stolen or otherwise illegally obtained by the Nazis including Johannes Vermeer's "Christ with the Adulteress."

It's up to Captain Joseph Piller (CLAES BANG), a Dutch Jew who's locally in charge of the Allied provisional government's attempts to restore the Netherlands' cultural heritage, to determine how it got into the hands of Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring and which locals might have aided and abetted, all to try them in court. With the help of his assistant, Minna Holmberg (VICKY KRIEPS), and his enforcer and fellow former resistance fighter Espen Dekker (ROLAND MOLLER), Piller's trail has led to Han van Meegeren (GUY PEARCE).

He's a flamboyant local painter known for throwing decadent parties that Nazi officials as well as locals such as Piller's wife, Leez (MARIE BACH HANSEN), were known to attend, but gave away much of his wealth to his now ex-wife, with him now having an occasional affair with his assistant, Cootje Henning (OLIVIA GRANT).

Knowing that the likes of Piller would eventually come looking for him, Han offers to help the captain with his investigation in a quid pro quo fashion. Piller doesn't have the time or patience for such games, but whisks him away before the likes of Dutch Ministry of Justice official Alex D Klerks (AUGUST DIEHL) gets his hands on him, what with Piller suspicious that some government officials were in cahoots with the Nazis.

As Piller continues his investigation, Han argues that the stolen work isn't genuine, but rather a perfect replica painted by him. With the case eventually ending up in court, it's up to Piller to determine if the painter is telling the truth and then how to proceed during the case.

OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10

They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. That may be true -- depending on whether you're the person being "flattered" or doing the imitating -- but it can also potentially be used to put those in power -- and who abuse such power -- in their place. You know, something along the lines of my new favorite bit of movie dialogue, "I believe every fascist deserves to be swindled."

That's spoken by a painter in the period drama "The Last Vermeer" (formerly titled "Lyrebird" back when it was first shown to a handful of critics in Fall 2019). It's the story of Dutch painter Han van Meegeren who was fingered at the end of WWII in Europe after a plethora of artwork looted by Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring was found in an Austrian salt mine. Word was that Van Meegeren was sympathetic to the Nazis and had arranged for Göring to get his hands on Johannes Vermeer's "Christ with the Adulteress."

The painter claimed the painting wasn't authentic and instead was a forgery painted by none other than himself and that he used that and other such art forgeries to give the paintbrush shaft, so to speak, to the Nazis by taking them for as much as he could swindle. He ended up on trial and that and the developments from the time of the discovery up until then are what make up Dan Friedkin's nearly two-hour-long film.

Not being remotely familiar with this remarkable tale, I don't know how much artistic license screenwriters John Orloff (under the pen name James McGee), Mark Fergus, and Hawk Otsby (who've adapted Jonathan Lopez's 2008 book "The Man Who Made Vermeers") have taken with the historical facts or if Captain Joseph Piller (played by Claes Bang) was a real Dutch Jewish tailor turned resistance fighter turned art theft investigator.

In any event, when we meet that character -- who maybe would have known a certain Indiana Jones in an alternate universe, what with their temporal proximity and shared dislike of art-stealing Nazis -- he's working through a number of leads trying to figure out how Vermeer's work ended up in Göring's collection. With the help of his assistant, Minna (Vicky Krieps), and his fellow former resistance fighter turned investigatory "muscle," Dekker (Roland Moller), Piller is good at what he does and quickly sets his sights on van Meegeren (a terrific Guy Pearce).

As does Dutch Justice of Ministry's Alex D Klerks (August Diehl, seemingly hopping over from Indy's movie universe to this one, veering toward caricature mode but thankfully pulling that back just enough) who likewise wants the accused artist, although perhaps not for the same reason. Sort of like Hannibal Lecter's relationship with Clarice Starling (minus the serial killer material, Chianti, and so on), Pearce's painter somewhat plays psychological games with his inquisitor and wants something of a quid pro quo relationship before spilling all of the (non-fava) beans.

All of which eventually leads to the big courtroom trial and the determination of whether the accused is innocent as he says or is simply using Piller to manipulate certain elements to get what he wants.

While I wouldn't necessarily describe this offering as great, it's certainly good and definitely engaged me from start to finish, thanks in no small part to Pearce's captivating performance. "The Last Vermeer" rates as a 6 out of 10.




Reviewed November 11, 2020 / Posted November 20, 2020


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