Reviewed by Drew Ninnis.
Director: François Margolin
Screenplay: François Margolin
Runtime: 95 minutes.
Cast: Anna Sigalevitch, François Berléand, Louis-Do De Lencquesaing, Michel Bouquet.
Trailer: “Don't overestimate yourself.”
Plot: The Jewish wife of an art dealer begins a quest to research the history of her grandfather’s paintings, and their possible misappropriation by the Nazis during the Second World War. What she discovers is even more unsettling, uncovering collaboration, conspiracy, and old criminal acts within the heart of her wealthy family. A dangerous game is then played, within which she supposedly risks her life to find out the truth.
Review: I won’t take up much of your time with a review of The Art Dealer, it’s astoundingly boring and amateurish – a made-for-television movie that begins to fall apart almost as soon as it opens. The concept for the film is adequate enough; misappropriated artworks and the struggle of Jewish families to reclaim them, often from the recalcitrant French government itself. A serious issue, and fascinating enough to warrant several documentaries on the histories of the families and their fates following the mass deportations and exterminations of Jews.
But what The Art Dealer chooses to do with this important history is embarrassing; trying to pass itself off as a Scandinavian thriller where the heroine’s own safety is at risk through a giant conspiracy, headed toothlessly by her feeble great-uncle. Anna Sigalevitch, who has put in solid performances in The Piano Teacher and Flight of the Red Balloon, is hysterical and overblown here; receiving no help from the script, direction, or cinematography. Similarly the supporting cast, which features wall-to-wall old men shouting sputteringly at each other. One of the main cast must have died just prior to shooting as the role of Klaus, a German friend of the family, is played silently throughout the film by the 18 year old who stands in for the character during flashbacks (another annoying structural feature, anachronistic intercut footage from the 1940s of the family, with sound and in some cases colour). The character is supposed to be 80; leading to the delightful non sequitur of our heroine shouting ‘Nazi’s age well, Klaus!’ at the 18-year-old during the grave-side dénouement of the film. The audience will be similarly left baffled at his baby-faced longevity. François Bérleand deserves praise as the only cast member who makes it out unscathed; delivering a touching performance as a son who has long ago left behind his and his parents past, choosing to make something of his life and his future.
That the screenplay is a hysterical shambles is unfortunate (our heroine speculates that she is being followed, and shouldn’t contact the police because ‘they might be in on it.’ Later, she is suspended for her job as a colleague is coerced into saying she wasn’t truly ill on a sick day she took – God help us all if that were grounds for dismissal). But François Margolin’s amazingly amateurish direction and editing is astounding – blowing Tommy Wiseau out of the water. At the conclusion of an argument on the stairs between two 80 year-olds, we are treated to a full thirty seconds of said old man slowly trying to shakily navigate his way down the stairs in silence. Riveting. A naked shower scene of Sigalevitch pressing her breasts against the glass is added after a hard day of investigating; the symbolism of which escapes me. The film is slower paced than a three-legged turtle, despite wishing to be a heart-racing thriller. The threats to the heroine’s safety are laughable; the logic of the film’s villains unfathomable. Like many of Margolin’s choices in making the film.
Ladies and gents, this is a classic cinematic punch – get the audience in on a concept and a few glossy stills, then grab that ticket money and run before the angry audience storms the concession booth for their money back. Avoid it at all costs.
Rating: Half a star (for François Bérleand, poor fellow).