THE LOST LEONARDO
A TRIBECA 2021 PREMIERE
All art is subjective, or at least it should be. But what happens when a work’s authenticity is called into question? Should it be held to the same standard? Is it still art? Those are only some of the questions beneath the canvas of the riveting documentary The Lost Leonardo, which premiered at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival.
Directed by Andreas Koefoed, the film follows the mysterious resurfacing and subsequent sales of the controversial Salvator Mundi painting. While it looks like any other painting to the average person, the piece is often the subject of debate between artists and critics alike because no one knows for sure whether it’s the work of Leonardo Da Vinci.
Even though the title itself implies it is, make no mistake, by the end you won’t know either. And that’s fine because the looming mystery only makes the painting more majestic.
What makes the film so compelling is that it uses the painting as a Trojan horse to introduce the viewer into the surprisingly sketchy art world. What starts off as your run-of-the-mill documentary turns into somewhat of a historical thriller. Even though we never find out where the painting comes from the journey, as recalled by those who found it and the many who changed hands with it, is fascinating. Just when you think the piece couldn’t create any more drama, the revelation of who owns the painting and where it is now is especially jaw dropping.
While it isn’t presented as such, the film is somewhat a foreign language film - a good chunk of the film does have subtitles. However, because both Koefoed and the subject matter do such a fine job at drawing you in, you never notice.
Although I enjoyed the film, I still had a couple of complaints. None of them were about things that I didn’t like, but rather clear missed opportunities or moments that I would have liked to be expounded upon more. For instance, the film does introduce us to an exclusive underground market where major works of art are bought and kept in vaults. That alone was worthy of it’s own plot line in a feature film, and I would have loved to have seen and heard more about that world, as well as its history and some of the other works being kept there. There are also brief bouts where some of the interviewees ponder not only if the painting is a lost Leonardo, but the last Leonardo. I really would have liked to hear more from them on why that is because what if this isn’t the last we see of Da Vinci? And what if it is?
In all, The Lost Leonardo is an admirable work on its own, which forces us to think about why art is so important and whether the value we place on it is really worth it. It also dares to ask whose opinion matters more: the artist or the critic? For the sake of this piece, I’ll say the latter.