It’s May1945, three weeks after the end of the war in Europe, and in Amsterdam they are shooting suspected Nazi collaborators in the streets.
Captain Joseph Piller (Claes Bang), a former Dutch Resistance fighter now in Canadian uniform, is searching for valuable artworks stolen by the Nazis.
He is also hunting down any Dutch citizens who might have collaborated with the Nazis by selling them priceless masterpieces.
The trail quickly leads to a wealthy art dealer Han van Meeegeren a flamboyant Guy Pearce, complete with waxed eyebrows, bouffant silver hairstyle and neat moustache.
Van Meegeren is vain, self-obsessed, a social gadfly, seemingly unfazed by the death penalty. Yes, he sold paintings to the Nazis, but he insists he was cheating the Nazis, not helping them.
The Dutch authorities are certain that van Meegeren is guilty. “
This guy’s an honorary Nazi, so let him swing with the rest of them,” says the sneering Ministry of Justice chief.
Piller is not convinced. He spirits van Meegeren away from the jail where the Dutch are holding him and instals him in a secret hideaway.
He even supplies his prisoner with an easel and painting materials on his promise of full cooperation.
Highlight of the film is Van Meegeren’s trial, a suspenseful courtroom drama with an extraordinary conclusion.
The Last Vermeer, by first-time director Dan Friedkin, is based on a fascinating true story, though it takes dramatic licence with some of the facts.
Cinematographer Remi Adefarasin gives a vivid picture of bombed-out Amsterdam and the contrast with the rich apartment where van Meegeren gave lavish parties – sometimes with Nazi guests.
Pearce is outstanding in the role of van Meegeren, clearly enjoying the juicy role.
This is an enjoyable film which raises interesting questions about how the value of art works depends so much on the opinion of critics; about morality in wartime; about personal ethics and revenge.
The Last Vermeer is now showing at Luna Leederville.
Watch the trailer…