Movie: THE LAST VERMEER
Rating: R, some language, violence and nudity
Release Date: November 20, 2020
Jeanne: Driven by a magnificent performance by Guy Pearce, THE LAST VERMEER isn’t going to entertain the masses, but it is a wonderful piece of filmmaking by director Dan Friedkin and his exceptional crew. Based on the book The Man Who Made Vermeers by Jonathan Lopez, THE LAST VERMEER tells the true story of Lt. Joseph Piller’s (Claes Bang) efforts to save artist Han van Meegeren (Pearce) from death for collaborating with the Germans during World War II in Amsterdam.
Immediately following the war, Piller is tasked with investigating stolen art and returning it to its rightful owners. He and his assistant, Minna Holmberg (Vicky Krieps), locate van Meegeren, a once-promising artist in Amsterdam whose career was abruptly ended by harsh critics in the art world before the war.
Between 1936 and 1942, van Meegeren sold seven Vermeer paintings to the Nazis. One in particular, The Woman Taken in Adultery, was sold to Hermann Göring,Hitler’s Vice Chancellor, for an astronomical price. In 1945 when van Meegeren was arrested, he owned 600 properties in Amsterdam alone. While Piller, a Jew, was fighting in the Dutch Resistance, van Meegeren was living an extremely privileged life entertaining the Nazi elite with lavish, decadent, debauched parties.
But after his arrest, van Meegeren manages to convince Piller and Holmberg of his innocence by claiming --- and proving --- that the Vermeers he sold were all forgeries. He had in fact perfected Vermeer’s technique over the years and was quite adept at recreating the artwork. Now it is up to Piller and Holmberg to prove that he shouldn’t be put to death.
Friedkin has created quite a masterpiece himself. Utilizing an adapted screenplay by James McGee, Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby, the director and his incredibly accomplished cinematographer, Oscar-nominated Remi Adefarasin, have produced a darkly ravishing period piece. Filmed in Holland among the war-torn sets designed by Arthur Max, a three-time Academy Award nominee, THE LAST VERMEER is visually mesmerizing.
The driving force behind THE LAST VERMEER is Pearce’s portrayal of van Meegeren --- he’s absolutely marvelous, you simply can’t take your eyes off him. He and Bang developed a very close relationship, along with Krieps, during rehearsals in London and shooting in Amsterdam. This bond is very apparent in their actions and how they convert the unconvinced into believers in van Meegeren’s innocence, which makes the final twist even more astonishing.
As I mentioned, this is not a film which will appeal to everyone, but who cares? It’s a little slow in the beginning, but as this story of the bon vivant van Meegeren gets going, the mystery surrounding these priceless Vermeers grows as well. If you are at all interested in WWII and its history, THE LAST VERMEER is a See It Now!
Opinion: See It Now!
David: Johannes Vermeer was a 17th century Dutch master. One of his best-known works is Girl with a Pearl Earring which was the subject of a feature length film in 2003 starring then 19-year-old Scarlett Johansson. This painting and others of Vermeer are on display in a sterling new motion picture entitled THE LAST VERMEER.
Seventeen-year-old boys will not be inspired to see this movie but serious cinephiles should not miss it. If THE LAST VERMEER was complete fiction it would still stand on its own merit. The fact that it’s based on actual events makes it a remarkable story.
First-time director Dan Friedkin has assembled a marvelous ensemble cast anchored by extraordinary performances from Guy Pearce and Claes Bang. The movie begins in 1945 in Amsterdam just after the fall of the Third Reich and winds up in late 1947 with a stunning trial.
Joseph Piller (Bang) plays a former Jewish/Dutch Resistance fighter who, as an officer after the war ends, is assigned to investigate precious artworks stolen or otherwise illegally obtained by the Nazis. When Piller confronts uber-wealthy painter Han van Meegeren (Pearce) he is sure the artist is guilty of selling art --- previously-owned by Jews and others --- to high-ranking German officers, including Hermann Göring. This is a crime punishable by death.
Meanwhile, a group called the Dutch Ministry of Information is also seeking van Meegeren’s arrest. The problem is that their half-crazed leader, Alex De Klerks (August Diehl), is hell-bent on punishing van Meegeren --- perhaps by firing squad --- once he is in their custody. This leads to a frantic escape, led by Piller and his rough-and-tumble ‘wingman’ Esper Dekker (delightfully played by Roland Møller ) from the prison where the artist is being held. Further investigation leads Piller to believe that van Meegeren is innocent and must now protect him from those who would do him harm.
Critics may complain we don’t know much of anything about Piller’s background, but that’s okay because it would only be superfluous to the story. The compelling reason to watch THE LAST VERMEER is one man’s obsession to discover the truth and prove another man’s innocence. Bang is superb in that role.
Pearce, meanwhile, plays his character with panache and more than a touch of humor. When van Meegeren is on trial for his life, he manages to regale the gallery with quips and comments that endear him to everybody present except for the prosecuting attorney and the obviously prejudicial judges. It’s an extraordinary turn by Pearce whose character gains the viewer’s sympathy and ultimately becomes a folk hero in his own
country --- despite initially being considered a greedy Nazi collaborator who owned close to 600 properties in Amsterdam alone.
The supporting cast is flawless. This includes Vicky Krieps as Minna Holmberg, a valuable and supportive aide to Piller, Olivia Grant as Cootje Henning, Han’s lover and an ardent character witness on his behalf and Adrian Scarborough as art expert/critic Dirk Hannema whose smug attitude, anti-Semitic bent and pretentious personality make him a character audiences instantly despise. It is Hannema’s contention that the works of Vermeer are impossible to forge. As a result, we are privy to the fascinating routine steps used by art verifiers who implement alcohol and chemical testing to confirm the authenticity of oil paintings.
THE LAST VERMEER is vaguely reminiscent of the wonderful WOMAN IN GOLD from 2015 starring Helen Mirren and Ryan Reynolds, but only in the sense that both films involve precious and priceless artwork illegally in the hands of the Nazis. As emotionally satisfying as that film is, THE LAST VERMEER is equally powerful, inducing visceral reactions by the time we witness its conclusion. Credit goes to a trio of writers who based their screenplay on the biography The Man Who Made Vermeers by American author Jonathan Lopez.
An anti-climactic but perhaps mildly controversial ending reveals that van Meegeren was not an unblemished hero, potentially leading to rigorous post-film discussions. This story would be a superb subject for movie groups --- on Zoom of course.
I again urge readers of our reviews to not miss one of the best films of 2020. THE LAST VERMEER is itself an astonishingly great work of art.
Opinion: Strong See It Now!