CLOSE TO VERMEER – Review by Justina Walford

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Suzanne Raes’ documentary,”Close to Vermeer, delves into the enigmatic world of Johannes Vermeer, the celebrated painter behind masterpieces like “Girl with a Pearl Earring.” Little is truly known about the artist himself, and that mystery has been studied and debated by scholars as long as his art has been known. This documentary’s essential story is not about Vermeer as much as Vermeer is the framework to tell an even more riveting tale. As the camera pans so intimately close to Vermeer’s paint and canvas, we see the gloves and scopes of study, gently poring over every dab of paint.

In this charming portrait film, Raes follows Gregor Weber, the expressive and sometimes brooding curator for the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. Just before retirement, Weber embarks on his grand dream of organizing the largest Vermeer exhibition ever. Accompanied by a passionate group of experts, they dissect the layers of Vermeer’s works and make new discoveries. Every detail of the art is under scrutiny as they choose and pursue Vermeer’s art from all over the world. One of the best examples of their meticulous focus on detail and historical significance emerges within a painting’s element —a birdcage. To the untrained eye, this birdcage may appear inconsequential, but for our experts, finding that it is a later addition becomes the trigger for a veritable existential crisis. And that is mere foreshadowing because later a piece of the exhibit gets international attention as not a Vermeer.

The film weaves the challenges of this ambitious curation and a philosophical pondering about authenticity and the experience of art. They ask what makes a Vermeer a Vermeer, but in many intimate moments, we are really asking what makes art transcend paint and canvas?

What truly sets this documentary apart is the beauty of witnessing the interactions between Weber and his circle of scholars. Raes invites us to observe their passionate discussions and occasional differences, not in what they say as much as training the camera onto how they react. Reflecting the dynamics of a Vermeer, Weber is often seen in a corner processing new information while another part of the room is in a colorful flurry of discovery.

Close to Vermeer beautifully displays the world of art curation and helps us discover people who do their work with their whole soul. The love and care of Weber and these scholars gives us hope that we can discover the mind and life of a painter centuries gone.

ABOUT JUSTINA WALFORD

An award-winning writer of screen and stage, Justina Walford was also the Founder and Festival Director of Women Texas Film Festival for the life of the fest and she was programming director of Oxford Film Festival for two years. A lover of adrenaline-filled movies since she could understand the word “zombie,” she is particularly drawn to strong women’s voices in alternative genres such as horror, action, and science fiction.

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