Tim's Vermeer

Tim’s Vermeer


This documentary from venerable magicians/entertainers/smartasses Penn and Teller initially asks whether it’s possible to recreate a Vermeer painting; by the film’s end, that question turns into why anyone would want to do so. I don’t mean that to seem negative or snarky but rather as a genuine inquiry into what drives an artist to complete a work of art, and how that differs from, say, what drives a scientist to prove a hypothesis.

In this case, the scientist is Tim Jenison, in reality an inventor trying to figure out how 17th Century Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer established a photo-realistic technique more than a century before photography was invented. Jenison’s thesis is that Vermeer used a carefully constructed set-up of a camera obscura and additional mirrors and magnification to achieve this effect. To prove it, he rigs together what he believes to be such a set-up (no actual documentation of how Vermeer painted exists). Along with an elaborate life-sized facsimile of the scene portrayed in the painter’s The Music Lesson that Jenison constructs himself, he attempts to recreate the painting following this technique.

TIM’S VERMEER is most effective in its second half as it records the painstaking process Jenison endures in order to prove his hypothesis and “paint a Vermeer”. Days become weeks become months as Jenison encounters various challenges he hadn’t considered when setting out to do this project, such as the pointillist recreation of the intricate blanket that makes up a considerable part of the painting’s composition. Here, the film is less about its thesis and more a character study of a man determined to prove said thesis (and the full palette of emotional states he exhibits, from wry bemusement to fatigue and desperation). You almost wish Werner Herzog narrated and directed this material instead of, respectively, Penn and Teller, although to their credit they’ve made a suitably cinematic piece of work themselves, beautifully shot to complement the subject matter and buoyed by a pleasant score. Both artists and scientists will generally approve, even if their opinions may diverge on what Jenison’s achievement actually is. Grade: B+

You’ve surely seen it before: the film about a divorcee of a certain age who finds herself. Only she probably wasn’t in her fifties, Chilean or kinda dumpy looking. Gloria is all these things (rather resembling a middle-aged version of Marcie from Peanuts), but it’s the actress playing her, Paulina Garcia whom you should really take note of. Appearing in every scene, she’s striking simply for being herself. She’s no ingénue, eccentric, nor even a free spirit—just a very relatable character looking to have a little fun, which she finds when she meets a former naval officer while out clubbing. The ensuing relationship is textbook standard (guy seems nice but is unable to fully commit) and to be honest, nothing new. But you can’t take your eyes off Garcia, not because she’s a great beauty, but she does possess an unusual, almost lived-in charisma. Her presence carries and enlivens the film and for once, such a well-worn character arc of empowerment and self-actualization feels plausible, natural and also fun to watch unfold. B+

In which George Clooney proves that a good idea and a great cast don’t always make for a decent film. Based on real-life events, the film relates how a World War II platoon, mostly made up of middle-aged curators and architects, was given the task of finding valuable works of art stolen by the Nazis and returning them to their rightful owners. In theory, this is novel subject matter for a war film; in practice, however, it doesn’t comfortably slot into an action-thriller template. Isolated moments leave an imprint thanks to chemistry between cast members, particularly those featuring Bill Murray and Bob Balaban together or a late scene between Cate Blanchett and Matt Damon that contains a tartness the remainder of this overly earnest film sorely lacks. Presumably going for the feel of classic Hollywood cinema, it instead feels merely stodgy, a disappointment for its director/star whose first efforts behind the camera (CONFESSIONS OF A DANGEROUS MIND, GOOD NIGHT AND GOOD LUCK) resonated precisely because they took chances and were stylistically anything but stodgy. C+

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