Dutch painter Han Van Meegeren is considered the greatest art forger of all times. This is the period of uncertainty following the end of World War 2 and the downfall of the Nazis. As this fascinating, if a little dull at the edges, film opens we get to know that Han is on trial for collaborating with the Nazis, when in fact he did just the opposite. He sold the Nazis the forged Vermeers for millions of dollars.
The Last Vermeer is a sophisticated piece of cinema defined by a sense of propriety and sincerity. The right and righteous remain just that till the very end when Han’s innocence is proven by an Allied soldier Joseph Piller (played with impressive persuasion by Claes Bang). The narrative strung together like a chamber piece, plays out basically as a dialogue between Han and Joseph. These dialogues have a certain sardonic charm to them, capturing an uncertain time after Hitler’s defeat when the musty air in Germany was redolent with violence torture, and death.
Under Dan Friedkin’s directorial navigation the film sails through a difficult period without getting heavy-handed, presenting the world’s most famous art forger as a bit of a rakish con-man in ways that have nothing to do with the paintbrush and canvas. As played by Guy Pearce Han Van Meegeren comes across as a Chaplinesque charlatan and amusing endearing fraud with a reputation for ripping off art and women’s modesty.
Pearce has fun with the role. Though death squads are roaming the streets the film chooses to stalk the art world with jaunty steps. The courtroom trial at the end of the film is lush and ludicrous, grave and giggly at the same time. You wish there was more heft at the film’s core.
I wouldn’t say The Last Vermeer makes light of art duplication. But it does bring in a kind of cheeky fun into the theme. While Han’s trial is on, there is a marital triangle being played out, with Joseph’s marriage falling apart. The narrative weighs Han’s womanizing against Joseph’s conservative decorous attitude to romantic relationships.
The Last Vermeer is perhaps unable to convey all its thematic resonances to a closure. But the film is a good-looking piece shot in deep striking colours, and it is mildly enjoyable while it lasts.
Directed by Dan Friedkin, The Last Vermeer gets 2 and a half stars!
Image source: IMDb