Parky At the Pictures (21/8/2020)
(Reviews of Pinocchio; The Assistant; Yes, God, Yes; and My Rembrandt)
The majority of cinemas may be closed during these enduringly dismal days. And who, in all honesty is that big a film fan that they would risk contracting a contagious disease just to see something on the big screen as part of a well-spaced crowd? There are still ways to connect with some of the films on general release, however. In addition to Curzon Home Cinema. MUBI and the BFI Player, it should also be possible to access the titles under discussion below via iTunes, Apple TV, Amazon, Sky Store, Virgin, Microsoft, Vimeo, Google Play, Rakuten, BT and Playstation.
There have been numerous adaptations of Carlo Collodi's timeless 1883 fable, Pinocchio. But the two that impinge most upon Matteo Garrone's new interpretation are Ben Sharpsteen and Hamilton Luske's 1940 Disney animation and Roberto Benigni's 2002 live-action version, in which the 50 year-old comedian took the title role. He is more suitably cast here as Geppetto, leaving eight year-old Federico Ielapi to join Franco Interlenghi, Rinaldo Smordoni, Enzo Staoila and Salvatore Cascio in the ranks of remarkable Italian child actors
Poor, alone and reduced to using his tools to chip off edible crumbs from a stale cheese rind, Geppetto the carpenter (Roberto Benigni) is intrigued by Mangiafuoco (Gigi Proietti) and his travelling puppet show and decides to carve a marionette of his own. He asks his friend, Cherry (Paolo Graziosi), for a piece of wood and is delighted to be given a log for free (although he doesn't know that it seems to have a mind of its own). After much painstaking work, Geppetto finishes his puppet and calls him Pinocchio (Federico Ielapi). On realising that the wooden doll is not only alive, but sentient, Geppetto declares him to be his son and his neighbours are delighted for him.
Thrilled by the village, Pinocchio can't wait to explore the wider world. Ignoring the advice of the Talking Cricket (Davide Marotta) who lives in the corner of the room and gets thumped with a mallet for his pains, Pinocchio goes running around and is gone for such a long time that Geppetto has to go looking for him. He arrives home to find Pinocchio's feet on fire because he has dozed off too close to the stove. But he feels so sorry for the puppet that he forgives him for his mischief and makes him a new pair of feet. Geppetto also sells his jacket so he can send his son to school with his own ABC book.
Pinocchio is touched by the sacrifice, but he can't resist the temptation of Mangiafuoco's theatre and sells his book to purchase a ticket. Once inside, he is spotted by the performers, who beckon him on stage. Unfortunately, he causes a commotion and finds himself locked in a caravan with Pantalone, Columbina, Harlequin, Pulcinella and Gianduja, as Mangiafuoco leaves town. He is angry with Pinocchio for ruining the show and informs him that he is going to be used as firewood so the puppeteer can cook his supper. He is moved, however, when Pinocchio reveals how sad Geppetto would be and, after he offers to accept his punishment to spare another marionette, Mangiafuoco not only sets Pinocchio free, but he also gives him five gold coins to help make Geppetto's life easier.
As he walks home, Pinocchio is waylaid by Fox (Massimo Ceccherini) and Cat (Rocco Papaleo), who are feigning disability in order to beg. Spying the money the puppet is carrying, the wily animals befriend him and persuade him to pay for something to nibble. Over lunch, they trick Pinocchio into believing that his coins will grow into money trees if they are planted in the Field of Miracles. Venturing into the Land of Barn Owl, Pinocchio bids a reluctant farewell to his companions, who claim to have to visit an ailing relative. Dismissing the warnings of the Talking Cricket, the wooden boy continues into the woods, where he is assailed by the disguised Cat and Fox, who leave him dangling upside down from a tree in the hope he'll spit out the coins hidden in his mouth.
Fortunately, Pinocchio is found by the Fairy with Turquoise Hair (Alida Baldari Calabria), who takes him back to the house she shares with her Snail nurse (Maria Pia Timo). Concerned for the stranger's well-being, the Fairy summons Doctor Crow (Massimiliano Gallo) and Doctor Owl (Gianfranco Gallo), who give differing diagnoses before prescribing nasty medicine that Pinocchio only agrees to swallow to avoid having to go inside a coffin being carried by some rabbit pallbearers. Once he's back on his feet, he eats with the Fairy, who smiles to herself as the puppet's nose grows longer as he tells a series of lies while explaining why he is so far from home. She beckons some woodpeckers to chisel the prolonged proboscis down to its normal size and sends Pinocchio on his way with a reminder to go straight home to Geppetto.
Before he's gone too far, however, Pinocchio bumps into Fox and Cat again. They pretend to be appalled at the news of the assault and persuade the puppet to accompany them to the Field of Miracles. No sooner has he planted the coins and been sent for some water than Pinocchio finds himself alone and he realises he's been swindled. When he reports the crime to the Judge Gorilla (Teco Celio), Pinocchio is surprised to discover that guilt is regarded as a virtue in the Land of Barn Owl and he only escapes life imprisonment by boasting of his own nefarious deeds.
On arriving home, Pinocchio learns from Neighbour Remigio (Mauro Bucci) that Geppetto's search has taken him to North America and the puppet dives into the sea in order to swim the ocean to find him. However, he succeeds only in being washed on to the Island of the Busy Bees, where he is found by the Blue Fairy (Marine Vacth), who is now a grown-up. She is taken by Pinocchio's desire to become a real boy and make his father proud and encourages him to remain on his best behaviour and return to school.
The Teacher (Enzo Vetrano) turns out to be anything but inspirational and Pinocchio soon allows himself to be distracted from his brutality by Lucignolo (Alessio Di Domenicantonio). He is keen to escape to Toyland, where children have fun all day long without adults trying to tell them what to do. Torn between keeping his promise to the Fairy and having an adventure, Pinocchio gives into temptation and climbs aboard the wagon being driven by the Coachman (Nino Scardina). As billed, Toyland turns out to be a wonderland. But the boys turn into donkeys overnight and the Coachman takes them to market to be sold.
Pinocchio is bought by a circus owner, who teaches him to do tricks. One day, he notices the Fairy in the audience and rushes over to see her. However, he trips and injures himself so badly that the Director (Massimiliano Gallo) decides to drown him in the sea so that he can have a drum made out of his hide. But the Fairy is watching over the donkey-boys and sends a shoal of fish to gnaw away at the outer carcass so that Pinocchio can become a puppet again. His luck doesn't change, though, as he is swallowed by a Whale and feels miserable, as he explores the monster's belly. Much to his delight, Pinocchio finds Geppetto, who had been gulped down many months before on his voyage to America.
They are overjoyed to be reunited and forge a friendship with a Tuna (Maurizio Lombardi), who suggests that they escape that night while the Whale is sleeping with its mouth open. Having fled from its maw, the trio head for shore, where Geppetto and Pinocchio take refuge in an abandoned house in the country. As the old man is weak from his incarceration, Pinocchio goes to the nearby farm and works hard to get some milk to build up Geppetto's strength. He also shows that he has learned his lesson, as he has nothing to do with Fox and Cat, who have fallen on hard times.
By contrast, Pinocchio thrives with his new responsibilities and he nurses Geppetto back to health. His compassionate devotion is noticed by the Blue Fairy, who pays him a surprise visit at the farm. She rewards him by granting his wish to become a real boy and Pinocchio rushes home to show his father that they can become a proper family in their new home.
Not since Luigi Comencini's 1972 mini-series, The Adventures of Pinocchio, has Collodi's story been treated with such gravitas as a socio-political tract. Garrone and co-writer Massimo Ceccherini make it clear that there will always be naughty boys in initially making Pinocchio a rather resistible brat. But they are keen to point out that the world does little to accommodate them in boring and brutalising them at school and setting them a bad example with the chicanery that exists on every level of society. The wooden puppet might take his time to develop a conscience and come to respect the man who made and loves him. But, unlike his nose, he continues to grow, as he works out for himself that easy options rarely pay off and that those proffer them are often scoundrels seeking to defraud or exploit.
In many ways, therefore, the realm in which Pinocchio roams isn't so very different from the Naples of Gomorrah (2008) and Reality (2012) or the Roman suburbs of Dogman (2018). Anyone familiar with Tale of Tales (2015) would have expected nothing less, however, as Garrone can't resist the magic neo-realism that dates back to such Vittorio De Sica stories as Miracle in Milan (1951).
He is superbly served here by two-time Oscar-winning make-up artist Mark Coulier, who sticks closely to the illustrations of Enrico Mazzanti in seeking to use physical effects wherever possible rather than computer animation. The Cricket, the Snail, the Gorilla and the Tuna are marvellous creations (and brilliantly acted), while the texture of Pinocchio's wooden face is deeply impressive. But Fox and Cat are also nicely realised and played with a delicious sense of pantomimic roguery by Massimo Ceccherini and Rocco Papaleo, whose delight at the prospect of having something to nibble takes the curse off their knavishness.
Nicolai Brüel's cinematography is also sensitive to the need to combine wintry realism with shimmering fantasy, as is Dario Marianelli's score, which builds from simple flute and guitar riffs to heart-tugging orchestral swells that mirror the puppet's rite of passage. This also reflects Pinocchio's short attention span and the need for instant gratification that frequently lands him in potentially perilous situations. Despite being buried under layers of latex that took three hours to apply each morning, the debuting Federico Ielapi conveys this air of capricious wonderment with an innocence and doughty bouncebackability that eventually wins the audience over to his cause.
Garrone plays down the Disney obsession with becoming a real boy and lingers longer in the company of Geppetto to give Roberto Benigni something to do. His pride (and pathos) at having fashioned such a handsome puppet is charming, as is the unstinting devotion that prompts him to sell his coat to further his education. Such selflessness has to be removed during Pinocchio's picaresque progress and it's a shame that Benigni on this form has to spend so long off screen.
Yet it's disappointing that the whale sequence is so much less unsettlingly atmospheric than it was in the Disney animation, although it's never entirely clear who Garrone is targeting, as his adaptation will feel less like a children's film outside Italy, especially in countries where subtitling is preferred to dubbing. Moreover, only a handful of youngsters are going to appreciate the sobering significance of the Blue Fairy's warning, `Those like you are born as puppets, live as puppets and die as puppets.'
One suspects that Guillermo del Toro's long-delayed stop-motion take on the tale will be every bit as dark and politically loaded. However, it's more likely to strike a chord with Anglo audiences, as Gregory Mann's Pinocchio will be joined by Tilda Swinton as the Fairy, Ewen McGregor as the Cricket, Ron Perlman as Mangiafuoco, Christoph Waltz as both Fox and Cat, and David Bradley as Geppetto.
It was intriguing to peruse the Hollywood trade press reviews of Kitty Green's feature bow, The Assistant, as they took it as read that an entry level drone in a busy office in the entertainment industry would be saddled with mundane chores and regarded with disdain by those in equally or more pressurised posts on the rungs above her. Such an approach rather misses the point, however, as does the complaint that the narrative lacks a dramatic hook to ramp up the tension and the stakes.
An Australian documentarist who made her name with Ukraine Is Not a Brothel (2013) and Casting JonBenet (2017), Green didn't necessarily have Harvey Weinstein and the #MeToo movement in mind when she embarked upon a project that was initially going to centre on sexual misconduct on college campuses. But she made the switch after conducting numerous interviews and her film is `a composite of the thousands of stories I'd heard, seen through the eyes of one woman'.
She is Jane (Julia Garner), who is met before dawn by a company car outside her Queens lodgings and driven into Manhattan to ready the office before anyone more senior gets in. In addition to tasks like opening the post and making photocopies, she also has to clean suspicious stains off the couch in her boss's office and pick up earrings off the carpet before anyone else sees them. A high-powered producer (Tony Torn, voiced by Jay O. Sanders), Jane's boss is never named or seen. But his booming voice comes through loud and clear down the telephone and all of his underlings allude to his misdemeanours by joking about not sitting on the sofa or leaving phone calls from his furious wife (Stéphanye Dussud) to Jane, who has only been with the company five weeks and is eager to make the most of what everyone keeps telling her is a wonderful opportunity.
The chief culprits in passing the buck to Jane are the two unnamed males who share her office space. The one sitting opposite (Noah Robbins) twice drops her in it with the boss's wife, who keeps calling in to keep tabs on her. He also rollocks Jane when she brings back a turkey sandwich instead of chicken for his lunch. His colleague (Jon Orsini) confines himself to knowing looks and barely suppressed sniggers. Yet, when Jane is forced to send grovelling emails to the boss to apologise for minor slips, they help her with the wording that will best mollify him.
Having managed a couple of mouthfuls of cereal in the kitchen area, Jane is back at her desk making calls to set up meetings and make travel and accommodation arrangements. At one point, she gets snippy with Amir the driver (Manu Narayan), only to apologise for getting on his case because she is feeling stressed because her mother (Heather MacRae) has just called to remind her that she has forgotten her father's birthday. Janes's sense of unease increases, however, when she has to phone Tess (Clara Wong) to arrange for her to come and collect her lost earring and when she is sent down to reception to sit with Tatiana (Bregje Heinen), an aspiring actress who has an appointment with the boss.
Executives come and go without paying Jane any heed. Indeed, some deliberately block her in a doorway so she has to brush past them. When the boss's wife calls again, her colleagues eavesdrop on the extension and Jane receives a telling off for having failed to placate her. She is expected to babysit when Sasha (Juliana Canfield) brings her two children into the office for a meeting. But nothing is said when the women bump into each other in the washroom and Jane realises that Sasha has been crying. Similarly, Jane waits in silence with Sienna (Kristine Froseth) for Roy (Patrick Breen), who ushers Jane out of the room after pointing out the places he needs Ruby to sign a raft of documents.
Sienna is a waitress from Boise, Idaho who has been given an assistant's job even though she has no previous experience. Having worked her way through college and taken unpaid internships to land her own post, Jane feels a sense of injustice that pretty girls can be given similar opportunities on a powerful man's whim. When her boss disappears for several hours, she and Max (Alexander Chaplin) get it in the neck from the Japanese visitors whose meeting he has missed. Realising that he has been visiting Sienna in the hotel room that the company is paying for, Jane decides the time has come to speak out.
Taking her coat out of her desk drawer and wrapping her scarf against the New York wind, Jane walks around the corner to see Wilcock, the human resources manager, in the admin office. Speaking hesitantly, she accuses the boss of being a sexual predator who uses his position to sleep with vulnerable young women. Seizing on her nervousness, Wilcock asks Jane whether she has evidence to back up her claim. When she admits that she has nothing tangible, Wilcock suggests that she is mistaken and insinuates that she has a character flaw that would lead her to reach such a sordid conclusion. Sneering that she should be okay because she's not the boss's type, Wilcock reminds Jane that she is in a privileged and envied position and that she risks blowing the chance to become a producer in the future by making baseless accusations.
Cowed into withdrawing her complaint, Jane returns to her desk, where she is soon required to make another apology to her short-fused employer. When Sienna puts in an appearance, Jane finds her an untaxing task and tries to keep her own head down. Like everyone else, she has to work late and sneaks a peak at an audition tape before Sasha drops in to whisk it off to Los Angeles. Jane pops a ready meal into the microwave, but has little appetite and is relieved when Max and Ellen (Dagmara Dominczyk) tell her she can go. She pops into a diner for a bun and calls her father (Mark Jacoby) to wish him a belated `happy birthday'. He asks how the job is going and Jane makes all the right noises to reassure him before heading home to sleep for a few hours before the whole rigmarole begins again.
Making for a fascinating contrast with Jay Roach's Bombshell (2019), this is a considered and insightful assessment of working in a toxic environment. By turning a blind eye to the boss's misdeeds, his staff find themselves cast in the role of enablers and Green adroitly reveals how self-interest plays as big a part as fear in prompting employers to keep quiet and carry on.
Having been in post for less than two months, Jane has yet to be subsumed by the prevailing office culture. Yet her misgivings and her decision to whistleblow are inspired more by a sense of injustice against others than herself, as she is more than prepared to grit her teeth on humble pie in order to keep a job she hopes will open doors. As she is still relatively new, Jane doesn't have anyone in whom she can confide, as she is uncertain who can be trusted to listen in confidence. Consequently, Green keeps Michael Lathan's camera close to Jane at all times to show how much she is under scrutiny and what little room she has for manoeuvre.
Fletcher Chancey's production design similarly boxes Jane in, while he tied- up hair and functional attire make her look younger, smaller and less self-assured than her workmates. Frequently striving to avoid betraying any emotion, Julia Garner's display of apologetic self-effacement is all the more remarkable when one compares it to her Emmy-winning turn as Ruth Langmore in Ozark (2017-). But, while she carries the picture, she is well supported by an unassuming ensemble and some deft off-screen vocal work that establishes the aggressively male atmosphere that leaves Jane feeling so voiceless and helpless. Indeed, it's the people we don't see who make reporting their activities so difficult and Green shrewdly uses their absence to demonstrate their malevolent potency far more effectively than she could have done if she had depicted the crimes more graphically.
YES, GOD, YES.
Catholic schoolboy guilt has driven a number of features down the years, so it's nice to see Karen Maine shifting the perspective in her semi-autobiographical debut, Yes, God, Yes. In some ways, this is similar to Will Gluck's Easy A (2010), which saddled Emma Stone's high-school senior with an unwanted reputation after she boasts of losing her virginity with a college boy. But this also has much in common with such conversion therapy pictures as Joel Edgerton's Boy Erased, Desiree Akhavan's The Miseducation of Cameron Post (both 2018) and Jamie Babbit's But I'm a Cheerleader (1999), with which Maine's film shares a key scene.
Midwestern teenager Alice (Natalia Dyer) is a good girl. She goes to mass on Sunday with her father (Matt Lewis) and never gets dress code violation tickets from the heavily pregnant Mrs Veda (Donna Lynne Champlin). But Alice enjoys logging into AOL chatrooms and talking dirty with complete strangers. Not that she always understands what they're implying and she can still be shocked by the odd shared image, even though she's not averse to sending chaste pictures of her best friend Laura (Francesca Reale) to keep people keen.
Her world comes tumbling down, however, when her secret crush, Wade (Parker Wierling), starts a rumour that Alice had tossed his salad at a party. Despite having no idea what he's talking about, she knows that it reflects badly on her and she is devastated when Wade announces he is now dating Alice's snooty classmate. Heather (Allison Shrum). Unable to confess to Fr Murphy (Timothy Simons) that she keeps rewinding the video of James Caneron's Titanic (1997) to watch Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet having sex, Alice feels sufficient pangs to sign up for a four-day Kirkos retreat at a lakeside camp in the woods.
Lying to counselor Nina (Alisha Boe) that she doesn't have a mobile phone to hand in, Alice feels instantly drawn to Chris (Wolfgang Novogratz), a Christian jock who so confuses her with his good looks that she circles `turned-on' in a list of feelings that Fr Murphy has circulated in order to assess the issues the group might want to address. In bed that night, Alice puts her phone on vibrate and slips it between her thighs. But, the next morning, she misjudges Chris's kindness when he carries her back to camp after she had feigned an ankle sprain while out on a woodland ramble. To make matters worse, Nina finds Alice's phone and she is given extra cleaning duties as a punishment.
Alone in the dining hall, Alice finds a computer in the office and logs on to her chatroom to see if anybody knows what tossing someone's salad means. She feels guilty later when Mrs Veda and Fr Murphy read out letters from home and her father expresses his unshakeable pride in her. But Alice is more interested in impressing Chris. So, after Andew (Tre'len Johnston) and Fiona (Paige Hullett) had spoken in a group session about being dumped and losing a grandmother, Alice makes up a story about finding her dead dog and is dismayed when Chris jumps up to console the sobbing Fiona.
At supper that night, Fr Murphy declares that he knows someone has been accessing pornography on the computer and, having heard about the poisoned pup fib. Laura knows immediately that Alice is the guilty party. She feels further pressured when Murphy calls her in to discuss the need to resist sexual temptation and Wade refuses to admit that he invented the salad story. So, having found the friendship bracelet that Heather had given Wade, she leaves it by the computer to incriminate him.
Moreover, she stops feeling that she had let Nina down over the phone incident when (broom in hand) she sees her performing oral sex against a tree. And, to cap it all off, she happens upon the holier than thou priest breaking his vows with a saucy video. However, she can't resist the chance to kiss Chris, while they chat on a bench beside the lake and he flees like a scalded (if aroused) cat. At wit's end, Alice wanders out of camp and finds herself at a lesbian bar on the outskirts of town. The owner, Gina (Susan Blackwell), gives her an underage wine cooler on the house and tells her to stop worrying about going to Hell, as next to nothing that she learns about morality at Catholic school should be taken seriously.
Buoyed by this pep talk and Wade being outed in front of the entire retreat, Alice uses a last-day moment at the lectern to urge people to be honest about themselves and treat each other with respect, as that's what Jesus would want. Once back at school, she asks Chris to forgive her impetuosity and they agree to be friends. She also hints to her father that she would like to spread her wings by going to an out-of-state university. But she saves the best till last, when she uses her weekly confession to make Fr Murphy aware that she knows he's a hypocrite. Moreover, she ignores his penance of 50 Our Fathers and Hail Marys and goes home to masturbate to Titanic using a battery-powered tortoise massager that she finds on the table.
There may not be anything particularly new about this rite of passage, but that doesn't prevent it from being as necessary as it is endearing and enjoyable. Far too few encourage young women to enjoy their bodies and the sexual pleasure they can bring and Maine (who co-wrote Gillian Robespierre's Obvious Child, 2014) wisely ensures that Alice isn't punished for being either curious or adventurous. Of course, the blind faith she places in the strangers with whom she chats online is unsettling and predators stalked chatrooms at the turn of the millennium with as much frequency as they do now. But Maine is careful to have Gina remind Alice of the basics of online security in encouraging her to be herself and not conform to any fatuously imposed rules.
Natalia Dyer goes amusingly astray as Alice, as she combines naiveté with naughtiness in hitting upon a brand of sensual spirituality that suits her. The remaining characters are pretty much ciphers, however, with their foibles being designed to teach Alice that nobody's perfect. Timothy Simons's priest is very much a flawed individual, but Maine avoids making him a monster in the light of the shamefully unresolved abuse scandal. How difficult it would be to make a film like Norman Taurog's Boys Town (1938) today, even though the Irish-born Fr Edward J. Flanagan (who was played by the Oscar-winning Spencer Tracy) is now a candidate for canonisation for his work with underprivileged youth.
Dutch art dealer Jan Six XI has to be unique, as he shares the name of one of Rembrandt van Rijn's sitters. Indeed, the portrait still hangs in the 56-room family townhouse in Amsterdam, which doubles as a museum for a few weeks each year. However, as Oeke Hoogendijk reveals in My Rembrandt, Six is not just a curio of ancestral and art history. He is also an expert in his own right and a chance catalogue discovery in 2016 provides the compelling core of this distinctive documentary.
It's not the only strand, however, and we shall explore the byways before returning to the central controversy around which they coil. The least rewarding detour takes us in the direction of American businessman Thomas Kaplan, who became interested in the art of the Dutch Golden Age in 2003 and has since, with the help of wife Dafna Recanati Kaplan, turned the Leiden Collection into one of the world's most important picture repositories. His achievement was favourably portrayed in the BBC's Looking For Rembrandt series, which was made in 2019 to mark the 350th anniversary of the painter's death. Here, however, Kaplan comes across as smug and hectoringly palsy, as he regales viewers with his scheme to further the cause of humanism by liberating Old Masters from `the private domain into the public domain'.
By offering to loan the 250-odd paintings and drawings in his possession to events around the world, Kaplan is performing a noble service. But Hoogendijk's footage makes him look like a gauche arriviste who is using the artefacts acquired through his vast mineral wealth to attain social standing and cultural respectability. He does himself few favours with his swaggering verbosity on camera, particularly when he leans forward conspiratorially to confide that he has kissed one of his Rembrandts, as he has the proprietorial right to do. Such braggadocio is unfortunate, as Kaplan clearly cherishes his collection with as much sincerity and passion as the more sympathetically portrayed Duke of Buccleuch.
Educated at Eton and Christ Church, Oxford, Richard Walter John Montagu Douglas Scott inherited the titles of 10th Duke of Buccleuch and 12th Duke of Queensberry in 2007. As the largest private landowner in Scotland, he can boast three family seats, with Boughton House in Northamptonshire being complemented north of the border by Bowhill House and Drumlanrig Castle. Each home contains fabulous art treasures, although Leonardo da Vinci's `Madonna of the Yarnwinder' (c.1501) has resided at the National Gallery of Scotland in Edinburgh since being recovered in 2007, four years after two thieves posing as tourists escaped with it through a Drumlanrig window.
The Duke is particularly fond of Rembrandt's `An Old Woman Reading' (1655) and Hoogendijk drops into the castle as he is discussing a rehang with Taco Dibbits, the General Director of the Rijksmuseum. He would desperately love to take the picture home, but sportingly accepts the ducal devotion to an heirloom whose presence can be felt throughout the entire castle. Looking on with patrician geniality, the Duke watches the frame being taken down with a touching anxiety that is contrasted with the cosy image of him settle down to read with a wee dram, with his Rembrandt hanging on the wall above the fireplace. One has to wonder whether such proximity to a roaring real fire is entirely wise where Old Masters are concerned, but nobody expresses any reservations on camera.
Dibbits becomes a key player in the third subplot, as he learns that a family tax emergency has prompted Baron Eric de Rothschild to sell the pendant portraits of Maerten Soolmans and his wife, Oopjen Coppit, which have long adorned the walls on either side of the bed in his Parisian apartment. Like the Duke, Rothschild has established a personal relationship with the paintings and his pain on having to part with them is evident. But his misfortunate spells opportunity for Dibbits and his Rijksmuseum superior, Wim Pijbes - or, at least, it would do if they could afford the €160 million required to purchase them.
This opens a window for Jean-Luc Martínez, the Director of The Louvre, who is determined to keep the pictures in Paris. However, he doesn't have the necessary funds, either, and icily polite negotiations begin between the two institutions in order to find a way of acquiring the 1634 wedding portraits without breaching the Rothschild stipulation that they remain together. Eventually, a deal is struck that satisfies all parties and the expressions on the faces of Dibbits, Pijbes and Martinez as the culture ministers from their homelands steal the limelight at the grand announcement are almost as priceless as the looks of amazement when resortation on the portraits begins in earnest and centuries of dirt are meticulously wiped away.
But where does Jan Six fit into all this? Well, the 40 year-old made what he reckoned to be an astonishing in a Christie's catalogue in November 2016. As he idly flicked through the pages, something about `Portrait of a Gentleman' caught his eye. Noting the dates c.1633-35 and the attribution, `Circle of Rembrandt', Six felt certain that he had stumbled across a previously unknown painting by the Dutch master, as he had been too young to have had any followers in the early 1630s.
Despite the scepticism of renowned Rembrandt expert Ernst van de Wetering, Six flew to London to see the picture for himself and became more convinced than ever after examining the depiction of the sitter's bobbin lace collar. Familiar with the family-owned portraits of Jan Six and his mother, Anne Wymer, Six was certain he had finally found a way to prove himself to his demanding father, who gained a degree of notoriety when he sued the Dutch government for failing to honour contracted payments towards the upkeep of his home on the banks of the Amstel,
Having persuaded an investor to bid for the Christie lot, Six was thrilled to land it for just £137,000. He had it restored and analysed by the Rijksmuseum, who verified the dating and the origin of the materials used. However, while scholars were intrigued by the find, none would go on the record to back Six's claim. Book editor Ronit Palache was more excited by the find and, having started dating the recently divorced Six, she devised a publicity campaign that would tie Six in with the Rembrandt story.
Revelling in the spotlight, Six dramatically presented `Portrait of a Gentleman' on the Pauw arts show in May 2018 and his book became an international bestseller. Four months later, however, Six's reputation was impugned by fellow dealer, Sander Bijl, who insisted that he and Six had pacted to buy the picture together and that he had welshed on their deal. Naturally, the row sent shockwaves through the Dutch art world. But the waters became muddier still when Six revealed that he had been keeping mum about another major discovery since 2014.
He had spotted self-portrait by the possibly 19 year-old Rembrandt in the New Testament image, `Let the Children Come to Me', and had acted quickly with a secret investor to snap it up from a German auction house before anyone else realised its significance. On the advice of Van de Wetering, he had entrusted the extensive cleaning operation to an Alkmaar-based restorer, Martin Bijl, who just happened to be the father of Six's accuser. As the 2018 media storm intensified, a ferocious game of who told what to whom and when was played in the public gaze, with Six being castigated by both Sander Bijl and Van de Wetering. He stood his ground, however, and Hoogendijk offers no inkling as to whether she believes him or not.
Indeed, she keeps a poker face throughout a documentary that also includes Dutch collectors Eijk and Rose-Marie De Mol van Otterloo, whose presence reminds us that artists like Rembrandt received commissions from wealthy patrons who viewed the resulting portraits as status symbols to ensure that every one in their social circle knew their rank within the United Provinces. As reputations grew, collectors started to acquire what had been deeply personal artefacts and they developed their own relationships with them. But, for every Duke of Buccleuch who treasures their possession, there's a dealer, a collector, an academic, a restorer, a gallery administrator and a politician who views a masterpiece as a means to an end, whether their motivating force is intellectual curiosity, nouveau riche flamboyance, humanitarianism, self-justification, financial need, national pride or just plain egotism.
In addition to assessing why art was made and who has the right to own it, Hoogendijk also questions the price we should place on expertise in a case in which there are so many unknowns and unknowables. She presumes a fair amount of familiarity with the scandal, while her retelling of the Six/Bijl feud is nowhere near as cogent as Russell Shorto's in his excellent 2019 New York Times Magazine article, `Rembrandt in the Blood: An Obsessive Aristocrat, Rediscovered Paintings and an Art-World Feud'.
Nevertheless, this `art-thriller' makes for compelling and often amusing viewing. The moment in which the first dirt is removed from the portraits of Marten Soolmans and Oopjen Coppit, for example, is so wondrous that one can only hope someone puts Hoogendijk's The New Rijksmuseum (2014) online some time soon. But, for all his hubris, there's something unedifying and discomfiting about seeing Six flying too close to the sun in his eagerness to prove his worth to a father whose quickness to express a cutting opinion makes his son's plight all the more pitiable. One wonders what the first Jan Six makes of it all.