Director: Oeke Hoogendijk
Writer: Oeke Hoogendijk
Starring: Jan Six, Duke of Buccleuch, Eric de Rothschild
A documentary telling the individual stories of a series of eccentric (and seriously minted) individuals obsessed with the paintings of Rembrandt that they own or intend to own, and how their passions and obsessions lead to unintended consequences.
In these very troubled times a documentary about disgustingly rich and privileged individuals waffling on about the paintings of Rembrandt that they own or want to buy will inevitably be regarded by many as an insultingly inappropriate exercise in upper class self-indulgence, though on the flipside of that it could certainly be described as the ultimate piece of cinematic escapism!
I think it is fair to say that there are many that will not be able to get on with My Rembrandt; after all, it features an outrageously posh Duke wandering where it would be appropriate to place his original Rembrandt painting within his humongous mansion in Scotland so to ‘get the most out of’ the painting – this is surely the very definition of first world problems! Likewise we follow the youngest member of the incredibly wealthy Dutch Six family spend around 160,000 euros on a painting that he believes to be an original Rembrandt (they of course usually go for many, many millions) and how he ‘painfully’ agonises while waiting for it to be verified as an original Rembrandt or not and prove that he made the right call and can prove his family wrong – or indeed not. Then there is Eric de Rothschild moaning that he has to sell a couple of original Rembrandt paintings to cover his tax bill – boohoo! Then there is also Thomas S Kaplan, who just has lots of money and waffles on about how much it has always been his lifelong dream to own original Rembrandts and does so with a sickening amount of smugness.
However (and maybe I am slightly eating my own words here!), I always argue that context is a crucial element of any narrative, and within the context of the lives of these individuals their biggest problem may well be whether to buy or sell a painting that is worth millions. As someone who is very much from a working-class background, I am happy to admit that I found there to be something quite compelling about (some) of these individuals and their stories. I mentioned earlier that perhaps My Rembrandt offers the ultimate experience of cinematic escapism, and indeed one of the key functions of film is to provide escapism, and while there are films about characters with superpowers, likewise surely spending 90 minutes with characters that have seemingly infinite wealth (indeed Ben Affleck finally admits that is Bruce Wayne’s superpower in Justice League) is surely just another form of cinematic escapism, as for those 90 minutes we can forget about our own issues and pretend that we live an opulent lifestyle and our main concern is what multi-million pound piece of art to by next – it is basically just the simple concept of consumerism that we are all a victim of, but with a few extra zeros!
Well, for those of us that are willing to forget our own humble lives for 90 minutes and embrace the contents of My Rembrandt it does actually serve as a rather entertaining film, as some of the stories are actually quite interesting. While admittedly the stories involving the Scottish duke and the smug American businessman do feel like forgettable filler, the other two stories are quite compelling. The story involving Jan Six’s potential discovery of a new original Rembrandt takes some very unexpected turns, including various accusations of double-crossing, while Eric de Rothschild putting two original Rambrandt’s to auction almost causes a (slightly farcical) diplomatic fallout between the French and Dutch that would certainly not feel out of place in a spoof comedy. Of course it is easy to argue that the millions spent on these paintings would be better served elsewhere, but then again on the flipside the arts (of all kinds – including film) play an incredibly important cultural role in Western society. That is not a debate the film tends to try and engage in, but it is certainly one that can be started by a group of people watching it!
While to some it may be a particularly vile examination of the opulence of the elite, but to others it can serve as a perfect example of cinematic escapism that also raises the issue of the role of art in Western society: My Rembrandt is likely to be hated by many, but for those willing to embrace it, they will be rewarded by a documentary with some surprisingly enjoyable moments.
At time of writing My Rembrandt is out in UK cinemas and available to stream on Curzon Home Cinema