Close to Vermeer is a captivating and humorous documentary

Still from 'Near Vermeer'.  Deposit of image films

Still from ‘Near Vermeer’.Deposit of image films

In the fascinating documentary Close to Vermeer Award-winning documentary filmmaker Suzanne Raes follows curators Gregor Weber and Pieter Roelofs as they bring to life the greatest Vermeer exhibition of all time. The Rijksmuseum exhibit shows 28 of 37 (or 27 of 36, depending on how many paintings we actually attribute to Vermeer) surviving paintings by the Delft painter.

Johannes Vermeer is a mystery. Unlike his contemporaries, no writings by him have survived. Aside from a few facts, we know nothing of his life – not even what he looked like. Perhaps that is why his work is so important: it is all that remains of him.

Close to Vermeer concentrates many storylines around Weber and Roelofs’ attempts to bring to Amsterdam as many of the 34 paintings as possible that are not in the Rijksmuseum. It turns out to be quite a job: Vermeer’s paintings are masterpieces in a number of major museums in Germany and the United States, among others.

As befits a good documentarian, Raes is a master of observation. She has a knack for reducing complex events to a telling look or revealing statement. Raes knows how to make the most esoteric discussions of a Vermeer’s technicalities as compelling as a flashy action movie and just as humorous as a fast-paced comedy.

But this ability to distill hours of footage into a captivating fragment also has a downside. Sometimes the movie is a bit rushed. For example, in dealing with Vermeer’s attribution issues. Solve these problems alone Close to Vermeer worth watching, but the film still manages to suppress the feeling that Raes could have gotten more out of it.

The documentary, for example, provides a searing explanation of the questions of authenticity surrounding it. girl with flute – the painting which the National Gallery of Art in Washington does not have, but which the Rijksmuseum considers a real Vermeer, as parole already reported – and Woman seated at virginalthe weakest work of the work of Vermeer, but whose technical studies do not allow to doubt its authenticity.

Mauritshuis curator Abbie Vandivere says she is not interested in questions of attribution. In one sentence, she threatens to undermine the quarrels of restorers and curators. It would be an interesting counterpart to the technical discussions, but Vandivere is not allowed to dwell on it.

We see all of Vermeer’s paintings pass by during the preparations for the exhibition. But Close to Vermeer ultimately focuses on a handful of high profile paintings. Only these paintings are provided with more background information. It therefore takes little imagination to imagine this film, of a modest duration, as a series where each of these paintings receives as much attention. More than a point of criticism, it is a sign of the quality of Raes’ cinema.

Close to Vermeer

Direction Susan Raes
Can be seen in De Balie, Cinecenter, Eye, Filmhallen, Het Ketelhuis, Kriterion, The Movies, Rialto De Pijp, Rialto VU

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