IDFA 2019: My Rembrandt
My Rembrandt offers a mosaic of delightful and gripping stories about the desire to own works by the Dutch Master.
To paraphrase English novelist L.P. Hartley, the art world is "a foreign country, they do things differently there." It is rarefied, it is monied and it oozes both elegance and charm. It evokes enormous passions, and the levels of deference born towards its benefactors generally reach stratospheric heights. Oeke Hoogendijk's incisive and highly entertaining documentary, supported by the Netherlands Production Incentive, is also populated by people bearing very portentous names and titles, such as Eijk de Mol van Otter loo (an art collector) and The 10th Duke of Buccleuch (a Scottish land owner overseeing 280,000 acres).
But you don't have to scratch too deeply beneath the surface to discover levels of deception and mistrust as the trade in art seems to take on the same political and diplomatic significance as the trade in arms.
At the heart of the story are two tales. The first is of quasi-aristocratic Jan Six, an art dealer whose 17th Century (and identically-named) ancestor was painted by Rembrandt. The modern-day Six is determined to discover a new Rembrandt painting himself (something which hasn't happened in nearly 50 years), and remarkably seems to discover two in as many years. The other story tells of Paris-based Baron Eric de Rothschild who owns two Rembrandts that depict Dutch trader Marten Soolmans and his wife, and which are saucily positioned either side of a lavish bed and stained by years of cigarette and cigar smoke. When the baron decides to sell the works, a monumental face-off ensues between the renowned Louvre and Rijksmuseum, a dispute which can only be resolved at highest diplomatic level.
An altogether gentler tale is of the Scottish duke who mulls over where to place his beautiful and much-loved Rembrandt which depicts a reading woman. Meanwhile Mr and Mrs de Mol van Otterloo have placed their trust in Six the Younger and watch in dismay as his name is sullied across the media for allegedly breaking a pledge with another dealer in the purchase of one of the newly-discovered Rembrandts.
We also hear US businessman and philanthropist Thomas Kaplan tell how he liberates Rembrandts from the "private domain into the public domain", using "Old Masters to further the cause... of humanism." The cast is completed by a conflicted Rembrandt expert and a restorer who, over the course of four years, is painfully removing layers of paint from a painting to (potentially) reveal a Rembrandt masterpiece beneath.
Having directed The New Rijksmuseum (2014), about the renovation of the Amsterdam museum, Hoogendijk acknowledges the assistance she received in making her latest film. "You don't always get to visit the likes of Baron de Rothschild, but when you have the director of the Rijksmuseum writing letters to all of these people, then that helps a lot."
She also confirms that she becomes very attached to her subjects and was thankful that a fascinating character such as Jan Six was prepared to allow her to film delicate meetings with buyers and colleagues. Nevertheless, she kept her camera rolling as Six's world seems to collapse around him towards the film's conclusion.
"For me as a filmmaker he is fabulous. You are not always sure what he is saying or what he is doing. My original intention was to make a plot-directed film about the world of the Old Masters, particularly the Rembrandts. But when I met Six, he was a godsend and the centrepiece of everything, and also the descendant of a man who was a close friend of Rembrandt himself."
"But ultimately I am not a judge," she stresses of his subsequent troubles, "and I wanted to stay out of the conflict as much as I could. In a film it is always more interesting when you leave judgement up to the audience."
SEE NL Magazine #37 November 2019 / IDFA Issue
SEE NL is published four times per year by EYE International and The Netherlands Film Fund and is distributed to international film professionals.