Review: ‘Bergman Island,’ starring Tim Roth, Vicky Krieps, Mia Wasikowska and Anders Danielsen Lie

October 20, 2021

by Carla Hay

Vicky Krieps and Tim Roth in “Bergman Island” (Photo courtesy of IFC Films)

“Bergman Island”

Directed by Mia Hansen-Løve

Some language in Swedish with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Sweden (primarily on the island of Fårö), the dramatic film “Bergman Island” features an all-white cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A British film director and his German screenwriter wife have different experiences while on a getaway trip to Fårö (famous for being filmmaker Ingmar Bergman’s home), where she struggles to finish a screenplay, whose plot is depicted in the movie.

Culture Audience: “Bergman Island” will appeal primarily to people who Ingmar Bergman and to people who are interested in talkative arthouse movies that have a story within a story.

Mia Wasikowska and Anders Danielsen Lie in “Bergman Island” (Photo courtesy of IFC Films)

People watching “Bergman Island” will have a better chance of enjoying the movie if they know in advance that it’s more of a low-key “slice of life” character portrait (with a generous serving of Ingmar Bergman history) than a series of dramatic shakeups. Usually, whenever there’s a drama about a married couple going on a getaway trip together, the plot is about some kind of crisis or reckoning that happens in their marriage. That’s not the case with “Bergman Island,” which has a story-within-a-story that’s introduced in the last third of the film.

Written and directed by Mia Hansen-Løve, “Bergman Island” has a meandering quality to it that’s reflective of the leisurely pace that one might have when on a tourist getaway trip. Married couple Tony (played by Tim Roth) and Chris (played by Vicky Krieps) are on this type of trip, which they approach in two very different ways. Tony is a well-known British film director in his late 50s. He’s about 25 years older than Chris, a lesser-known screenwriter who is originally from Germany, but she currently lives in England with Tony and their daughter June (played by Grace Delrue), who is about 5 or 6 years old.

Tony is a highly respected “auteur” who’s famous-enough to be recognized in public by film aficionados, but he’s not so famous that paparazzi are following him wherever he goes. Chris and Tony have decided to go without June to Fårö (an island off the coast of Sweden), which is nicknamed Bergman Island, because it’s where Swedish filmmaker Ingmar Bergman famously lived in the later years of his life. The island has become a tourist attraction for Bergman fans who take guided tours of Bergman’s former home and places that he liked to go on the island.

This getaway trip isn’t a complete vacation fr Tony and Chris. It’s somewhat of a working trip. Tony has been invited to give a guest lecture, while Chris is trying to get some work done on a screenplay for her next movie. She has writer’s block and is struggling to figure out how to end the film. Viewers will get the impression that Chris and Tony are relatively content with each other, but there’s no real passion in their marriage. They act more like roommates who get along with each other and respect each other.

Chris and Tony aren’t exactly bored with each other, but for a great deal of the trip, they don’t really care to spend a lot of time together. They also make a lot of small talk with each other, as if they’ve run out of meaningful things to discuss. Chris and Tony go on some sightseeing tours together, but at some point, Chris (who gets more screen time than Tony) ends up doing her own activities. It becomes very apparent that Chris and Tony also have very different personalities, which affects how they approach the trip.

A lot of “Bergman Island” is about Chris and Tony meeting some of the local Bergman historians, having dinners with them and going on some sightseeing excursions. However, Chris is a lot more outgoing than introverted Tony. She’s also more interested in meeting new people and having inquisitive conversations with them about their lives, in contrast to to Tony, who limits his conversations with strangers to polite small talk.

Chris is worried about how she’s going to finish her screenplay. Tony doesn’t offer much support because creativity comes easier for him, so he can’t really relate to her writer’s block. It’s implied that Tony doesn’t write a lot of the movies that he directs. He also refrains from giving advice because he thinks that Chris should find her own creative path without interference from him.

While Tony is content to spend time relaxing in their resort room, Chris is more adventurous and spends more time exploring areas on her own and interacting with some of the local people she meets. One of them is a man in his 20s named Hampus (played by Hampus Nordenson), a film student who tells Chris that his grandparents are originally from Fårö. Hampus and Chris end up spending a lot of time alone together, as he shows her places that are not the usual tourist spots.

At one point, Hampus and Chris end up frolicking on a secluded beach with other, in a platonic way. There are hints that Chris and Hampus have a mild attraction to each other, but neither of them acts on it. Hampus and Chris enjoy each other’s company and find out that they have similar tastes in movies and literature.

If “Bergman Island” followed the usual movie formula about a married couple with not much passion in their relationship, someone in Chris and Tony’s marriage would be tempted to commit infidelity on this romantic island. There are hints that Tony has sexual thoughts that he’s not sharing openly with Chris. Shortly after they arrive Fårö, Chris sees in Tony’s journal that he has sketched some drawings of a naked woman in various bondage poses and sexual positions. Next to one of the sketches are these words: “Who are you? You or me?”

Is Tony having an affair? Is he secretly lusting for another woman but hasn’t committed infidelity with her? Or is he just interested in drawing erotic sketches? Don’t expect any answers in this movie. Chris seems somewhat surprised at what she’s discovered in Tony’s journal, but she says nothing to Tony about it because she probably doesn’t want to be accused of snooping.

Chris is more preoccupied with her unfinished screenplay than thinking about infidelity. But it isn’t until the last third of “Bergman Island” that she opens up to Tony and tells him what her screenplay is about, in order to maybe get some feedback or advice from him. When she tells Tony what’s in the screenplay plot so far, the story is depicted on screen in the story-within-a-story part of “Bergman Island.”

The protagonist of Chris’ screenplay is a woman in her 30s named Amy (played by Mia Wasikowska), who’s had a tumultuous on-again/off-again love affair with a guy named Joseph (played by Anders Danielsen Lie), ever since she was 15 and he was 17. It’s unknown if their teenage romance is depicted in Chris’ screenplay. What Chris describes to Tony is the part of the screenplay that is supposed to lead to the ending that Chris has a hard time completing.

After years of not being in contact with each other, Amy and Joseph happen to see each other again because they are guests at a mutual friend’s destination wedding. Amy is now a single mother who is currently not involved in a love relationship. Joseph is not the father of Amy’s child, and Amy doesn’t want to talk about the father of her child.

Meanwhile, Joseph is a never-married bachelor with no children, but he has a serious girlfriend named Michelle back at home whom he says he’s probably going to marry. Amy is not happy to hear this news, because Amy has unresolved feelings for Joseph. It’s enough to say that there are still romantic sparks between Amy and Joseph. Will they or won’t they end up together?

Although all of the principal actors in “Bergman Island” give very good performances (Wasikowska is the standout), the movie seems a little off-kilter by introducing this secondary plot so late in the story. A better narrative structure would have been to weave the secondary story into the main plot in a more seamless way instead of rushing it in toward the last third of the film. Truth be told, Amy and Joseph are a much more intriguing couple than Chris and Tony.

It’s not only because Tony and Chris have settled into a boring marriage. Amy and Joseph just have more interesting things to say to each other. Amy and Joseph are also more passionate with each other and better at expressing themselves, maybe because there’s a lot more at stake with their emotions than “safe” couple Chris and Tony.

“Bergman Island” has some gorgeous cinematography and great scenic shots of Fårö. This movie should be a treat for people who are Bergman fans, since there are plenty of references to his work and personal life in the movie. Without the subplot about Amy and Joseph, “Bergman Island” would not be as compelling to watch. Don’t be surprised if you almost wish that Amy and Joseph’s story had been the main plot, because it seems like Amy and Joseph’s screen time ends too soon.

IFC Films released “Bergman Island” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on October 15, 2021.

Review: ‘Old,’ starring Gael García Bernal, Vicky Krieps, Rufus Sewell, Abbey Lee, Aaron Pierre, Thomasin McKenzie and Alex Wolff

July 23, 2021

by Carla Hay

Abbey Lee, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Ken Leung, Thomasin McKenzie, Rufus Sewell, Aaron Pierre, Vicky Krieps and Gael García Bernal in “Old” (Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures)

“Old”

Directed by M. Night Shyamalan

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed tropical beach location, the horror film “Old” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some African Americans and Asians) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: Several people who are on vacation at a beachside resort are invited to go to a secretive beach on the property, and they find out that this mysterious beach causes rapid aging and is difficult to escape.

Culture Audience: “Old” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan or who don’t mind seeing a horror movie that takes an intriguing concept and squanders it with terrible screenwriting.

Thomasin McKenzie and Alex Wolff in “Old” (Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures)

The only thing that gets really old quickly in “Old” is how this abysmally bad horror movie keeps shoving ludicrous dialogue, dumb plot holes and tiresome characters in viewers’ faces. The story is mainly about vacationers stuck on a sinister beach where everyone ages rapidly. Viewers of this awful dreck will be stuck wondering how much worse “Old” can get, as it continues a pile-on of inconsistent and ill-conceived science fiction.

Many of the movie’s characters are as unappealing as the disgusting giant tumor that makes an appearance at one point in the movie. (You’ve been warned.) “Old” (written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan) is the type of dreadful movie where a 6-year-old boy experiences the trauma of swimming in a beach area when a floating dead body of a naked woman crashes into him, but his parents react as if the kid should eventually forget about this decomposing cadaver, just because they covered up the body with a blanket. Meanwhile, just a few minutes after the body is discovered, one of the other kids on the beach who witnessed this horror pipes up, “I’m hungry!”

“Old” is based on the 2010 graphic novel “Sandcastle” by Pierre Oscar Lévy and Frederik Peeters. And it’s the type of cinematic misfire where you can tell that the book is much better than the movie. Shyamalan has a very mixed track record when it comes to his horror/suspense films because of his frustrating tendency to create convoluted and unnecessary plot holes that lower the quality of the material. “Old” isn’t his worst-ever movie, but it’s not good enough to be considered simply average.

“Old” starts out fairly promising in the part of the movie that doesn’t take place on the ominous beach. The main protagonists are a family of four vacationing at a beach resort called Anamika Resort in an unnamed tropical location. (“Old” was actually filmed in the Dominican Republic.) Once the movie switches to the “beach that causes rapid aging” scenes, the story quickly goes downhill from there.

Insurance actuary Guy Capa (played by Gael García Bernal), his museum curator wife Prisca Capa (played by Vicky Krieps) and their two children—11-year-old daughter Maddox (played by Alexa Swinton) and 6-year-old son Trent (played by Nolan River)—are a family from Philadelphia who are on vacation. They’ve arrived by a shuttle van to Anamika Resort, which seems to cater to a middle-class and upper-middle-class clientele. The family is warmly greeted by the resort’s staff, including the unnamed resort manager (played by Gustaf Hammarsten) and his perky assistant named Madrid (played by Francesca Eastwood), who promptly offers the adults some cocktails. It’s at this point in the movie that you know that there’s more to those cocktails than meets the eye.

The family seems very happy with the resort so far. Prisca (pronounced “priss-kah”) marvels at the beauty of the resort and says, “Can you believe I found this place online?” The four family members quickly get settled into their suite and spend some time outside in the resort’s beach/activities area. Trent is an inquisitive and friendly motormouth, while Maddox is quieter and more reserved. The siblings get along with each other very well. The same can’t be said for their parents.

Guy and Prisca have two big secrets that they want to keep from their children while they’re on this three-day vacation. The first big secret is that Guy and Prisca are going to separate. It’s revealed later in the movie why they’ve been having marital problems. The other big secret is that Prisca has been recently diagnosed with a serious medical illness.

Prisca and Guy plan to tell the kids about the separation after their vacation ends. Prisca is more hestitant about when to tell the children about her big health problem. There are hints of why Prisca and Guy have been clashing when they start arguing about when they should tell the children about Prisca’s medical diagnosis.

Prisca shouts at Guy, “You’re always thinking about the future!” Guy yells back at Prisca, “You’re always thinking about the past!” Meanwhile, a sad-looking Trent and Maddox are seen in the next room, overhearing their parents’ argument. It’s a sign that the kids know more about what’s going on in this marriage than the parents think the children know.

At the resort, Trent has made fast friends with another precocious and extroverted boy who’s about the same age. His name is Idlib (played by Kailen Jude), and he says the resort manager is his uncle. Idlib lives at the resort, and there’s no mention of his biological parents. Viewers will have to assume that Idlib’s uncle is Idlib’s legal guardian, because the uncle seems to be the only parental-like authority in Idlib’s life.

Trent and Idlib find out that they both have an interest in deciphering coded language. Idlib and Trent also like going up to random vacationers at the resort and asking them their names and what they do for a living, in order to strike up friendly conversations with them. Trent doesn’t go too far away from his parents or Maddox, so that Trent is always within view of his family members.

At the resort’s main beach, Trent and Idlib meet three adults who are sitting together on lounge chairs. One of them is an American cop named Greg Mitchell (played by Daniel Ison), and he’s with his dancer wife and their British female friend who’s a chef. The only purpose of this scene is so that viewers will know there’s an off-duty cop on the premises.

Meanwhile, at the resort’s main beach area, viewers see another family of vacationers who will be a big part of the story. Charles (played by Rufus Sewell) is an arrogant cardiothoracic surgeon/chief medical officer. He’s at the resort with his vain, much-younger trophy wife Chrystal (played by Abbey Lee); their 6-year-old daughter Kara (played by Kylie Begley); and Charles’ mother Agnes (played by Kathleen Chalfant), who doesn’t show much of a personality in this movie.

While having lunch at an outdoor cafe near the beach, Chrystal lectures Kara about sitting up straight in her chair. Chrystal tells Kara that if she doesn’t practice good posture, she’ll be a hunchback who’ll be unattractive to men. Meanwhile, Chrystal somewhat flirts with the waiter serving them, even though the waiter looks like he’s barely out of high school. This scene is relevant to what happens later in the story.

It doesn’t take long for some drama to start on the beach. A vacationer at the resort named Patricia (played by Nikki Amuka-Bird) has an epileptic seizure, in full view of the two families. Patricia’s attentive husband Jarin (played by Ken Leung), who identifies himself as a nurse, rushes to her side to help. Charles also goes over to Patricia to see if he can assist and announces that he’s a doctor. To everyone’s relief, Patricia ‘s seizure ends before she gets hurt.

Shortly after this incident, the manager tells the Capa family about a private beach area on the property that only a select number of resorts guests are invited to visit. He calls this beach a “once-in-a-lifetime experience” and a “natural anomaly.” The resort manager adds, “I only recommend it to certain people.” Guy and Prisca are curious and excited about this private beach, so they immediately say yes to this invitation.

The unnamed van driver who takes them to this private beach is portrayed by “Old” writer/director Shyamalan, who always casts an acting role for himself in his movies. (He’s a mediocre actor.) In addition to Guy, Prisca, Maddox and Trent, the other passengers in the van are Charles, Chrystal, Kara and Agnes.

The van driver has given them several baskets filled with free food for this trip. Charles says it’s unnecessary to take all this food with them to the beach, but the driver insists on it because he says that the kids will get hungry. When Charles asks the driver for help in carrying all these baskets of food to the beach, the driver says he can’t because he has to leave to go somewhere else that he’s needed for work.

When the two families arrive at this mystery beach, they see an African American man (played by Aaron Pierre), who’s in his late 20s, sitting by himself near the cliffs that surround the beach. He seems to be in a daze or in some kind of trance. Two of the new arrivals to the beach have very different reactions to this mystery man.

Maddox immediately recognizes him as a famous rapper named Mid-Sized Sedan. Not surprisingly, the adults have no idea who Mid-Sized Sedan is. Maddox is star-struck and wants to go over to Mid-Sized Sedan to meet him, but her father Guy says not to bother this celebrity who’s on vacation. Maddox is disappointed, but she follows her father’s request to respect Mid-Sized Sedan’s privacy.

Meanwhile, Charles suspiciously looks at this tall and athletic-looking African American man and immediately wants himself and his family to stay far away from this stranger. Mid-Sized Sedan eventually reveals his real name and family background, and it’s not what some people might expect to hear. Even though there’s no racist name-calling in this movie, there are several moments in the film where it’s obvious that Charles is prejudiced against black men.

When things go wrong, Charles immediately accuses Mid-Sized Sedan of being the perpetrator, and he ignores Mid-Sized Sedan’s protests of being innocent. And the animosity gets violent. Therefore, viewers who are triggered by Black Lives Matter issues might be triggered by some of the scenes in this movie. However, the way these issues are depicted in the movie just seems like Shyamalan’s cynical way of pandering to these issues.

Shyamalan isn’t subtle at all about the racial issues in this movie. Observant viewers will notice that the entire time that Mid-Sized Sedan is on the beach, he doesn’t age. It has something to do with the nose bleeds he has. Those nose bleeds eventually are explained in the movie. But the other reason why Mid-Sized Sedan doesn’t age is so that he can keep looking like the young, athletic black man who is treated like a dangerous threat by Charles.

Not long after the two families arrive on the beach, they are joined by married couple Patricia and Jarin, who say that they were invited to the beach and dropped off in the same manner as the other guests. Patricia is a psychologist, so she tries to uses a lot of therapy techniques when things start to go bonkers on this beach. Jarin tries to figure out scientific/medical ways to get out of their predicament. Jarin and Patricia are this trapped group’s only adults who attempt to use logic to try to escape.

Did we mention that there’s no cell phone reception? And when people on this beach try to leave, something bad happens, such as they feel a pounding pressure on their head, they pass out, and wake up on the beach again. And you can guess that happens if anyone tries to climb over those cliffs that surround the beach.

What the movie doesn’t explain (it’s one of many plot holes) is how this resort can deliberately trap guests on this beach without regard to the probability that these guests told other people that they were vacationing at this resort. There’s an offhand mention in the beginning of the movie about how Anamika Resort tells guests, soon after they arrive at the resort, to hand over their passports to the resort for “safekeeping.” That should be a big warning sign to guests, because no legitimate resort would do that, and no traveler with common sense would willingly let strangers keep the traveler’s passport.

But the passport confiscation doesn’t address another major issue: Eventually, the missing people would have others looking for them, and the resort would come under scrutiny for these disappearances. That reality is ignored because the “Old” filmmakers expect viewers to be as dumb as this movie.

It doesn’t take long for the visitors on this private beach to figure out that something else is very wrong with this beach: For every 30 minutes that they’re on the beach, the people age one year. Lots of panic, horribly written dialogue and unrealistic signs of aging then ensue.

However, a realistic moment of comedy happens when Mid-Sized Sedan makes a “black don’t crack” reference to how black people’s skin doesn’t as age as quicky as other people’s skin because of melanin. As the people on the beach panic over the horror that they’re aging rapidly, Mid-Sized Sedan gives a knowing look to Patricia (the other African American on the beach) and says: “It’s the first time they wish they were black.” Patricia replies in agreement: “Mmm-hmm.”

The actors who are adults when they get to the beach are played by the same actors as they age. But even though their faces show wrinkles over time (except for Mid-Sized Sedan, who doesn’t age), this movie is so sloppily made that the aging adults don’t get gray or white hair when the characters reach the ages when they should have gray or white hair. Keep in mind that there’s no hair dye on this beach.

The children are portrayed by different actors as these characters age. Maddox is shown at as a teen/young adult, starting from age 16 (played by Thomasin McKenzie), and as a middle-aged adult (played by Embeth Davidtz). Trent is shown as an 11-year-old (played by Luca Faustino Rodriguez); as a teen/young adult, starting from age 15 (played by Alex Wolff); and as a middle-aged adult (played by Emun Elliott). Kara is shown as an 11-year-old (played by Mikaya Fisher) and as a 15-year-old (played by Eliza Scanlen). Trent and Kara have a quickie teen romance where something happens that will make viewers have divisive reactions.

Some of the actors seem to be cringing inside at the clumsy and stilted dialogue they have to say in this movie. Most of the cast members seem emotionally detached from their characters and just recite their frequently awful lines of dialogue, while others over-emote. It’s an awkward mix.

McKenzie is the only cast member who seems committed to realistically depicting her character’s feelings of confusion and angst over how rapidly her body is changing. It’s in subtle ways, such as her body language when Maddox covers up her breasts while wearing a bikini, because she hasn’t gotten used to having a body that’s reached puberty. While on the beach, all of the characters in “Old” who are parents make horrible decisions that make the parents look very irresponsible.

One of the biggest flaws in “Old” is that it does not adequately address how the children mature mentally and emotionally. When Trent’s body ages to 11 years old, the movie makes a point of saying that mentally, he’s still 6 years old. But then later in the movie, based on dialogue and actions, the children’s mental and emotional developments are supposed to match the ages of their bodies. There’s no explanation for this inconsistency.

When 11-year-old Maddox’s body turns into a 15-year-old’s body, her parents have a horrified reaction when they see her for the first time as a 15-year-old. Maddox is confused over why they’re reacting in this way. It’s because the movie wants viewers to believe that Maddox isn’t supposed to know right away that her body has changed.

However, Maddox wouldn’t need a mirror to see the changes to her body. All she would need to do is look down to see that grew breasts. And she would also sense that she got taller. But no, this movie wants viewers to forget all that common-sense logic and just accept whatever crappy plot fail is being thrown at them.

“Old” has some dubious merits of being so bad that it’s almost funny. There’s a subplot of Charles starting to go crazy on the beach. He starts rambling about random things, and the way his wild-eyed madness is depicted in the movie is unintentionally laughable because the acting is so over-the-top dreadful.

For example, Charles starts fixating on asking people to name the movie starring Marlon Brando and Jack Nicholson. Viewers won’t get the answer to the question while watching “Old.” But the name of the movie starring Brando and Nicholson is the 1976 Western drama “The Missouri Breaks.” It’s the only film that Nicholson and Brando ever did together. What does “The Missouri Breaks” have to do with “Old”? Absolutely nothing. It’s just one of many nonsensical things dropped into “Old.”

Throughout the movie, there are signs that these unlucky vacationers are being watched while they’re on the beach from hell. Therefore, when it’s revealed what’s going on and why they were chosen, it isn’t surprising at all. It’s downright anti-climactic and edited in a haphazard way. The big “reveal” at the end of “Old” is an idea that’s very similar to the reveal of another Shyamalan clunker movie, which won’t be named here because that would give away the ending of “Old.” You know a movie is bad when it rips off another unsurprising plot twist from another horrible movie that the same writer/director made years ago.

“Old” is also one of those movies that looks like it could’ve had three different endings, with none of them particularly inventive or unpredictable. Writer/director Shyamalan decided to cram all these ideas in the movie just to try to make “Old” look more clever than it really is. However the film ends, viewers should be glad when this monotonous mess of a movie is finally over.

Universal Pictures released “Old” in U.S. cinemas on July 23, 2021.

Review: ‘The Last Vermeer,’ starring Guy Pearce and Claes Bang

November 20, 2020

by Carla Hay

Guy Pearce in “The Last Vermeer” (Photo by Jack English/TriStar Pictures)

“The Last Vermeer”

Directed by Dan Friedkin

Some language in Dutch with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in the Netherlands from 1945 to 1947, and based on true events, the dramatic film “The Last Vermeer” features an all-white cast of characters representing the middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A Dutch military captain is tasked with hunting down people who stole or illegally sold high-priced art to Nazis, and he unexpectedly believes in the innocence of one wealthy suspect.

Culture Audience: “The Last Vermeer” will appeal primarily to people who like traditionally made dramas that are set in Europe in the 1940s and that explore issues of war crimes, social classes and art.

Roland Møller, Guy Pearce and Claes Bang in “The Last Vermeer” (Photo by Jack English/TriStar Pictures)

The dramatic film “The Last Vermeer,” which is inspired by a true story, is set in post-World War II Holland during the years 1945 to 1947, but the structure of the movie is very much like an episode of the crime procedural TV series “Law & Order.” The first half of the movie is about the hunt for suspects and narrowing it down to the person who gets arrested, while the second half is about the legal procedure that culminates with the accused on trial. It’s not a movie that’s groundbreaking, but it’s elevated by the engaging performances of Guy Pearce and Claes Bang, as two men at the center of an art mystery who start out as enemies and end up becoming unexpected allies.

Directed by Dan Friedkin, “The Last Vermeer” is like comfort food to people who relish a retro movie that pays homage to the era in which it takes place. It’s set in a mid-20th century Holland that is still scarred and recovering from World War II, yet proudly clinging to its historical legacy as one of Europe’s most important cultural centers. Much like it is now, the Netherlands is viewed as a country willing to try progressive things while steeped in traditions that go back centuries.

James McGee, Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby wrote the screenplay for “The Last Vermeer,” which is an adaptation of Jonathan Lopez’s 2008 biography “The Man Who Made Vermeeers,” about the life of Han van Meegeren. “The Last Vermeer” makes van Meegeren (played by Pearce) an adversary-turned-ally of the movie’s protagonist Captain Joseph Piller (played by Bang), who is given the responsibility of investigating and tracking down people who were responsible for stealing valuable art and/or selling them to Nazis. Joseph was a lieutenant who fought in the war, and he has a very clear sense of right and wrong, but he’s not above bending the rules if it means getting to the truth.

“The Last Vermeer” is the second movie released in 2020 in which Bang portrays someone at the center of a crime thriller involving fine art. He also starred in “The Burnt Orange Heresy,” which is a fictional story about a disgraced art critic (played by Bang) who tries to make a comeback by presenting himself as someone who has access to a painting by a legendary and reclusive artist. The idea of who gets to decide what is “valuable” art and how those perceptions can determine the price of art are also prominent themes in “The Last Vermeer.”

Both movies also explore issues of social classes and ask this question: Do rich people who spend spend millions on art deserve to be cheated if they are unscrupulous in their lives? It’s a moral and ethical dilemma that comes up later in the story of “The Last Vermeer,” whose “reveal” won’t be spoiled in this review if people don’t know the true story that inspired this movie. It’s enough to say that Han isn’t what he first appears to be at the beginning of the movie, and it’s why Joseph ends up taking his side.

Joseph’s investigation involves unraveling a complicated web of lies about how much art dealers, buyers and sellers knew when they made transactions that resulted in valuable art being owned by high-ranking Nazis. Joseph has a somewhat goofy sidekick named Esper Dekker (Roland Møller), who acts as someone who is ready to physically intimidate people when necessary. Joseph also happens to be Jewish, but for obvious reasons he doesn’t make that information known to a lot of people.

When Joseph enlists Esper’s help, he tells tells Esper: “I want to avoid the Ministry of Justice because they seem to have their own agenda. And that’s why I need you. I need someone I can trust.” An ambitious detective named Alex De Klerks (played by August Diehl) from the Ministry of Justice becomes one of Joseph’s main antagonists, because each man wants the credit and the glory for hunting down the most war criminals in this case. Alex thinks that Joseph is a lowly buffoon (he taunts Joseph for having a former career as a tailor), while Joseph thinks that Alex is a corrupt cop.

Meanwhile, there’s another reason why Joseph is throwing so much of his time and energy into this investigation: His marriage is falling apart, and the investigation is an excuse to spend time away from his wife Leez (played by Marie Bach Hansen), who is also emotionally distant from Joseph. Leez did spy work for the Allied Forces by working as a secretary of a high-ranking Nazi. This espionage work and Joseph spending time away from home because of the war took a toll on their marriage.

Joseph and Leez have a son named Finn (played by Tom Mulheron), who’s about 5 or 6 years old when this story first takes place. But Joseph’s love for his son isn’t enough to want him to spend more time at home. The investigation consumes Joseph to the point where it becomes the top priority in his life.

There are several other people who are part of the investigation, including Joseph’s trustworthy administrative assistant Minna Holmberg (played by Vicky Krieps), who’s a smart, widowed woman in her 20s. (Her husband died in the war.) And when there’s an attractive young assistant who admires her older married boss who’s on the verge of breaking up with his wife, you can pretty much guess what will happen in a movie like this one. It’s completely cliché, but there are many real-life situations that play out exactly like it does in this movie.

Joseph weeds through several people before he gets to what he thinks is the “big fish” in this underground art conspiracy. Han has been named as the the mastermind behind selling extremely valuable Johannes Vermeer paintings to Nazis from 1936 to 1942. The sales of these paintings, plus other art dealings, resulted in Han becoming a very wealthy man. But these art sales have also branded him as a Nazi conspirator and are war crimes that are punishable by death.

During the course of the investigation, Joseph finds out that Han is a flamboyant and charismatic art dealer who has lived a decadent life of hosting lavish, drug-and-alcohol-fueled parties, where high-ranking Nazis were frequent guests. Han also has a free-spirited lover named Cootje Henning (played by Olivia Grant), who is married and not very discreet about the affair. She provides some important information to Joseph, which leads to him discovering some of Han’s secrets.

As a result of his debauched lifestyle and numerous infidelities, Han has gotten divorced from his ex-wife Johana (played by Susannah Doyle), and has curiously let her have almost all of his money and numerous properties in the divorce. By the time that Joseph gets around to questioning Han, this already disgraced art dealer is on his way to being an exile from high society since he’s no longer wealthy and his association with Nazis has made him a pariah.

The more that Joseph uncovers, the more he finds that Han has layers of secrets in his life. Han’s loyalties and motivations aren’t what they initially seem to be. Han started out as a struggling artist but gave up his artist dreams when his first gallery showings were critical and commercial flops. It no doubt fueled his motivation to find wealth and respect in the art world in another way, which was to become an art dealer.

Han’s dealings with Nazis might come as a huge cost to his life. But Joseph becomes convinced that Han is not guilty of what he’s been accused of in court, and Joseph becomes one of Han’s biggest defenders when Han is put on trial. There are some hijinks in the movie that involve Joseph and Esper playing a cat-and-mouse game with Detective De Klerks. A jailbreak scene is somewhat amusing, if not highly dramatized.

However, the real gist of the story comes down to the trial and what happens as the case is laid out and there are twists and turns to the story. As Joseph, Bang is every inch the crusading hero that he’s supposed to be in the movie. He does a very good job in the role, but the character is very transparent and easy to predict.

Pearce’s performance as Han is really the standout in “The Last Vermeer.” Whether or not viewers know what happened in real life with the trial’s outcome, people will be kept guessing over whether or not Han is a hero or a villain. Just like a chess master, Han seems to be steps ahead of everyone else, in terms of things he knows that other people don’t and what he plans for his “end game.”

The movie’s art direction and costume design are on point (people who love European architecture and lavish interior designs will appreciate this film’s attention to detail), but “The Last Vermeer” works best because of the performances of the main actors. Friedkin’s direction is solid, but people with short attention spans might get frustrated during the first third of the movie, which introduces a jumble of characters who might or might not be suspects. “The Last Vermeer” is not an essential movie about post-World War II Europe, but for art aficionados, it’s worth checking out for a dramatic retelling of a very intriguing real-life art mystery.

TriStar Pictures released “The Last Vermeer” in U.S. cinemas on November 20, 2020.

Daniel Day-Lewis plays a complicated fashion designer in ‘Phantom Thread’

December 25, 2017

Daniel Day-Lewis in "Phantom Thread" (Photo by Laurie Sparham/Focus Features)
Daniel Day-Lewis in “Phantom Thread” (Photo by Laurie Sparham/Focus Features)

Set in the glamour of 1950’s post-war London, “Phantom Thread” is the story of renowned dressmaker Reynolds Woodcock (played by Daniel Day-Lewis) and his sister Cyril (played by Lesley Manville), who are at the center of British fashion, dressing royalty, movie stars, heiresses, socialites, debutantes and dames with the distinct style of The House of Woodcock. Women come and go through Woodcock’s life, providing the confirmed bachelor with inspiration and companionship, until he comes across a young, strong-willed woman, Alma (played by Vicky Krieps), who soon becomes a fixture in his life as his muse and lover. Once controlled and planned, he finds his carefully tailored life disrupted by love. With his latest film, Paul Thomas Anderson paints an illuminating portrait both of an artist on a creative journey, and the women who keep his world running. “Phantom Thread” is Paul Thomas Anderson’s eighth movie, and his second collaboration with Daniel Day-Lewis.

Here are videos and photos from “Phantom Thread”: