Pompeii is buried, spies shoot up Europe and the nature of art is considered in the week’s new movies

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TIM’S VERMEER: Art historians have long wondered how the Dutch master Johannes Vermeer achieved such photo-like clarity in his paintings. X-rays don’t even show any preliminary sketches beneath the finished oils. Did he use optical devices, like a camera obscura, to project an image and then duplicate it? At least two authors, including the famous British artist, David Hockney, say yes and a Texas inventor set out to prove it. You’ll be amazed at the lengths he went to. They’re all documented in this captivating documentary by Penn and Teller. You know the Las Vegas showmen who reveal the tricks of magicians? Teller directed; Penn narrates and interviews the Texan, Tim Jenison, a long-time friend.


His background is in TV technology. So with a lens and a mirror, he figured he could duplicate a Vermeer although he had never painted anything before. First, he travelled to Vermeer’s hometown in Holland to soak up the vibes and got permission to see the original painting “The Music Lesson” in Buckingham Palace in London. Then, in a San Antonio warehouse, he built an exact duplicate of Vermeer’s studio and created an exact copy of the scene in the painting, complete with a viola da gamba and his own daughter dressed as the student. Then he painted, for 130 days, the only time the film gets a bit tedious. It may not be art, it may just be a study of obsession. And it raises many questions. Did he prove his point? If true, does it reduce Vermeer’s  art in any way? (Not to me, by the way. I learned a great deal more than I had known about him). How good is Tim’s version? Is a copy also art? Lots to ponder in a lively film. (International Village) 3 ½ out of 5      

SPANISH FILMS:  Four new films from Spain are showing this week at the VanCity Theatre. It’s sort of a mini festival that shows what filmmakers can do even when their country is shaken economically by the Euro crisis.  Check the website for times and info about these films.

15 Years + 1 Day combines a mother’s problems with a rebellious son and a mystery to deliver a critical view of Spanish society. Many nominations for Goyas, Spain’s top film awards.

Serrat y Sabina: Two For the Road is a documentary taking us on a Latin American trip with famous singer-songwriter Joan Manuel Serrat and his “companeiro”, Joaquín Sabina.

The Wishful Thinkers is about young urbanites in Madrid encountering and making art, in this case a movie. The director, Jonas Trueba, is the son of a veteran director who’s latest film is also showing.

The Artist and the Model by Fernando Trueba, the one film in the four I have seen, is an enchanting story of a tired artist brought back to vitality by a model who arrives in his life. Jean Rochefort plays him with great dignity, explaining his philosophy (and a twisted version of the Adam and Eve story) to a young Spaniard who has come across the Pyrennes to France.

She’s played by Aida Folch who spends more than half of her extensive screen time posing nude for his sculptures.  Claudia Cardinale plays his wife. 

Gradually the background fills in. It’s World War II. France is occupied. The model (and a young man co-conspirator) sneak refugees across the border. A cultured German officer visits briefly. He’s a former professor of fine art now writing a book about the sculptor. The model is unfamiliar with but curious about the artistic process. The old man explains it with a Rembrandt sketch that he calls the best ever drawn. Nothing new in these musings on art—except perhaps that it all starts with “an idea”—but they’re presented so calmly in crisp black and white and with such effortless acting, that you can’t help but be charmed and then concerned by what the ending might mean.   (VanCity Theatre) 3 ½ out of 5  

More in New Movies

Two good kids films (though one is better for adults) and then rampant juvenilia with Hellboy

And more: the real Mary Magdalene story; the origin of Stockholm syndrome and a growing young again fantasy called Little. (Plus, three also rans).

Super hero fun, a not so good Stephen King adaptation and a daffy Ronaldo clone

And more: a guitar maker keeps the old ways, a banned Iranian filmmaker carries on, pre-World War I tremors in Europe, the underclass in Brazil and thoughts on fidelity in Toronto

Notes on the revised Dumbo; some worthy Canadian films and hot fun with McConaughey in Florida

And more: a glorious stroll through New York, ghosts in Quebec, indigenous struggle in Ontario and taming horses and yourself in a Nevada prison
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