My Rembrandt – Review

Directed by Oeke Hoogendijk

2019/ Netherlands/ 97 mins

Rating: 5 out of 5.

The artworld is a savage affair where there are no friends, plenty of enemies and slim pickings with who to trust. In this cultural battleground, there are few artists as sought after, as valued and envied as Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn. The renowned master of the Dutch Golden Age, Rembrandt is resolutely the country’s most prestigious art figure, working across all the principal genres of portrait, landscape and historical or mythical scenes.

So, what happens when a lost piece is discovered? Or when the French and Dutch go head-to-head in a bid to secure a pair of privately owned pieces? Oeke Hoogendijk pries open the dust-laden dens of antiquity as My Rembrandt examines separate but interweaving tales of the painter’s masterpieces and their current resting places.

This multi-stranded narrative has Hoogendijk whisking us across the dreich estate grounds of a Scottish baron, to the prim and pristine luxury of the Champs-Élysées in her determination to fuel a sense of adventure. She knows precisely where to cut the film, where to draw enough intrigue into the opulence and history of each segment, and what to curtail to cause hunger in the audience for a fuller picture. The stories both hinge around a central crux: Dutch art collector Jan Six XI, whose promising discovery of an unknown Rembrandt muddies the dignity of his clients, and Baron Rothschild’s sale of his prize pair of paintings threatens the entente relationship between the Louvre in Paris, and Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum.

Thing is; when capturing art on the screen, shifting its medium from a physical frame to a cinematic one, the art direction must be exceptional, or the experience is fruitless. Thankfully, Gregor Meerman & Sander Snoep capture Hoogendijk’s intentions with their cinematography, homing in on precisely which aspect of the painting is being discussed, dissected, or argued over. The toying with levels, to reinforce the presence of a portrait is a minor work of art in itself, especially when contrasting the shadows of An Old Woman Reading, kept out of reach from thieves, with an ever-present eye on her books.

Boudewijn Koole and Gys Zevernbergen’s editing shapes the documentary to this arcing narrative, a clever touch driving a much richer investment from audiences who may not value art history as much as others. The three-act structure centring around different paintings and their respective owners makes for a sense of motion, instead of a stagnant documentary. The film flows, gradually building on the mystery or the crumbling relationships between buyers and sellers – making for a strikingly opulent experience where the audience creates heroes, villains and old, wise experts.

Eccentric is the kindest way to describe the dragons’ hoarding tactic these elite collector’s exhibit, and Hoogendijk frames these characters magnificently. Whether it be the kind-hearted Baron Eric De Rothschild, a man who reluctantly parts with his iconic Pendant Portraits of Maerten and Oopjen to save his brother from taxes, or Professor Ernst van de Wetering twisting the knife in a ‘fake or fortune’ moment as authenticity is called into question.

Art captures the world’s most gruesome and glorious details, and DogWoof’s latest documentary demonstrates how the often faddy and sombrely viewed world of art can be a source of drama and spectacle. My Rembrandt illustrates the value of one of history’s finest artists, and the endless machinations and cut-throat antics commissioned by those desperate for a piece of the action. Hoogendijk takes no broad strokes in her approach, instead, she strips away the layers of veneer these dealers and collectors exhibit to reveal the ravenous children beneath, and on occasion, the purists who seek to protect these once-in-a-lifetime portraits for generations. 

Review originally published for The Wee Review

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