|PORTRAIT OF WALLY
(director/writer: Andrew Shea; screenwriter: David
D'Arcy; cinematographer: Sam Henriques; editor: Melissa
Shea; music: Gary Lionelli; cast: Morley Safer, Michael B.
Mukasey, Robert Morgenthau, Sharon Cohen Levin, Ori Z.
Soltes, Jane Kallir, Tom. L. Freudenheim, David D'Arcy,
Bonnie Goldblatt, Elizabeth Leopold; Runtime:
90; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Andrew Shea/Barbara
Morgan/David D'Arcy; Seventh Art
"Intricate documentary about stolen art is presented as if it were a thriller."
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Andrew Shea's ("Santa Fe"/"The Corndog Man"/"Forfeit")
about stolen art is presented as if it were a
thriller. It follows the historical theft case of
Jewish art during the war by the Nazis and films it
along the lines of a suspenseful detective story. It
remains a good watch despite dragging on for too long,
filling the screen with too many talking heads and
containing too many court procedural facts about legal
issues that are too legalese for the ordinary viewer
to completely grasp.
Shea and writer David D'Arcy cowrite the
twisty screenplay. D'Arcy
is a journalist who
worked for NPR in 2004 until fired for supposedly
shoddy reporting after telling the truth about MoMA's
position to return the titled work to Austria despite
claiming neutrality over the matter and his cowardly
public radio station bosses were thereby pressured by
the museum director to release a false retraction and
can the reporter.
The film tells how in Vienna, in 1939, a
1912 oil painting by an unknown at the time salacious
young Austrian artist, Egon Schiele, painted a
portrait of his mistress, entitled Portrait of Wally,
which was stolen from the apartment of Jewish gallery
owner Lea Bondi by the Nazi official Friedrich Weltz.
After the war when
the American military returned the stolen goods to
ended up in Austria's Belvedere Museum and was not
returned to its rightful owner. The museum curator
fudged who previously owned the painting and the
stolen work was falsely listed as part of another
stolen Jewish collection. Lea Bondi Jaray lived in
London after the war and unsuccessfully tried
retrieving her painting, which in 1954 came into the
possession of wealthy art collector and Schiele expert Rudolf Leopold. The film's
villain fooled Lea by pretending to be her friend and
promised to help her efforts at retrieval of her
painting, but in secret purchased it for himself even
though he knew it was stolen. Lea died in 1969, but
her heirs hired lawyers and continued to ask for
justice and the return of their family painting. The
opportunity for restitution of the stolen painting
came when it was on loan from the Leopold Museum in
Vienna to NYC's MoMA for an exhibit in 1997 and was
subpoenaed by Manhattan DA Robert Morgenthau. Thereby
it was not allowed to return to Vienna until a court
hearing over a civil law suit was held in NYC in 2010
to determine if it was stolen art. Leopold died after
giving a deposition and his snide widow Elizabeth
chooses to avoid a trial and to pay the heirs 19
million dollars to keep the painting in Vienna, in her
museum's possession, which is a bittersweet victory
for those seeking justice--but some cynically say,
they might get the dough but lose the painting.
The film points its finger at institutions willing to look the other way at collecting stolen goods, governments not willing to fight for justice, of politicians with conflicts of interest who can't be trusted and of how it sometimes takes as long as seventy years to stand up and fight alone for one's principles against the higher powers to even get some kind of convenient but not altogether satisfactory justice.
REVIEWED ON 6/13/2012 GRADE: B
Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"
© ALL RIGHTS RESERVED DENNIS SCHWARTZ