A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Last Vermeer is a historical crime drama about the 1945 trial of art dealer Han van Meegeren (Guy Pearce), who was accused of selling an important cultural treasure (the art of Dutch master Johannes Vermeer) to the Nazis. The film assumes that viewers understand what took place during World War II and why consorting with Nazis -- like attending parties with them or selling them goods -- was considered traitorous. Without that context, it will be hard to understand the townsfolk's bloodthirsty demand for retribution. Violence includes firing squads and fistfights. There's also a failed suicide attempt and a threat with a gun. One wild party shows women wearing slinky lingerie while men are fully dressed. Full-frontal female nudity is seen in a realistic painting, and characters kiss. Drinking is frequently featured, as is smoking -- accurate for the era. Occasional strong language includes "bulls--t" and "f--k." This is a fascinating, largely forgotten true story. And while it questions the subjective nature of how art is valued, the takeaway is about the struggle of dealing with moral ambiguity in a world that wants to see people in terms of "good" or "bad."
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What's the story?
Based on a true story (and adapted from Jonathan Lopez's book The Man Who Made Vermeers), THE LAST VERMEER takes place in Amsterdam in the weeks after the fall of the Third Reich. Capt. Joseph Piller (Claes Bang), a former Freedom Fighter and a Dutch Jew, is assigned to recover art and cultural treasures from the Nazis. When his investigation leads him to art dealer Han van Meegeren (Guy Pearce), who's believed to be a Nazi collaborator, "bad" and "good" are no longer clear-cut.
Is it any good?
Director Dan Friedkin dips his brush into the complicated emotions following World War II, masterfully painting an exquisite portrait of two men that's dripping with the messiness of human nature. He begins by muddling the clarity of strict definitions of right and wrong, which is how Piller sees the world. Piller, a Jewish man who'd joined the Dutch Resistance, is now working to rectify wrongs by recovering stolen art and returning it to the rightful, usually Jewish, owners. At the same time, the Dutch government is tracking down those who consorted and conspired with the Nazis. When the two investigations lead to the same man, van Meegeren, the film's real purpose becomes clear. What is morality? What is integrity? While we can look at the extreme ends of the spectrum and see people in terms of good (Freedom Fighters) and bad (Nazis), the actions of many lie in the middle. So then what?
This twisty story is accompanied by top-notch cinematography, phenomenal production design, wonderful costumes, and excellent acting. Bang drums up such a dashing image of righteousness frayed by emotional anguish that it's hard to believe he can play anything else. (But he can: He plays a despicable rogue in another art drama, The Burnt Orange Heresy.) And Pearce portrays the inscrutable van Meegeren with controlled zeal -- the restraint is to deliver believability, as apparently the real van Meegeren was truly a smug, flamboyant charmer. The Last Vermeer isn't perfect. There are moments that could use a bigger pronouncement, as well as some underexplained character relationships. But it's pretty darn good -- and for teens, it could be an intriguing vehicle to help understand the aftermath and psychology of a harrowing war. And for a more timely debate about cancel culture, it offers an excellent look at the complexities of character. Or try this: It's part of the rationale for why history proves over and over that society is willing to overlook criminal acts by larger-than-life con men.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how Capt. Joseph Piller demonstrates compassion and integrity in The Last Vermeer. Compare that to the survivors' demands to see justice served to their opportunistic neighbors. What conclusion do you think the filmmaker wants you to draw?
Han van Meegeren died a hero; what do you think his fate should have been? How should we contend with people who do something positive in one way but could also be seen as having moral failures?
Talk about Adolph Hitler's plunder of art and artifacts. Like van Meegeren, Hitler was a failed artist. Do you think if the art world hadn't rejected him, history might be different?
What did Nazi occupations during World War II mean in terms of survival for that country's citizens?
- In theaters: November 20, 2020
- On DVD or streaming: February 23, 2021
- Cast: Claes Bang, Guy Pearce, Vicky Krieps
- Director: Dan Friedkin
- Studio: Sony Pictures Classics
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Arts and Dance, Book Characters, History
- Character strengths: Integrity
- Run time: 118 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: some language, violence and nudity
- Last updated: February 24, 2021
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