Review: 'The Art of Crime' (L’Art du Crime)

John Thomas

They desperately need each other even though they don’t like each other. Florence Chassagne (Eléonore Bernheim) is a historian at l’art à l’École du Louvre. She’s quite comfortable working on a computer at her desk, but when called upon to ascend or descend stairs, gaze over a high wall or into a well, her vertigo kicks in and she freezes. In extreme cases she faints.

For disciplinary reasons, Antoine Verlay (Nicolas Gob), has been transferred from his beloved crime squad post to the art theft squad of the Préfecture de police de Paris. A poor choice as he knows nothing about art. He thinks the artists Bellini are an aperitif and Caravaggio the pasta course at an Italian restaurant. Nevertheless, fate has brought Florence and Antoine together.

A famous painting, Anne of Brittany, a work of questionable origin, is stolen and the thief is found dead outside the scene of the crime, a chateau museum in Amboise, France. Florence is called to the site to provide information about the painting, and Antoine is there to investigate the murder.

The work in question was once owned by the late husband of Catherine Dutilleul who had donated it to the museum from which it was stolen. Upon his death, the collection, great wealth and château went to his wife. She has offered to buyback the painting for 100,000 euros. Florence’s research indicates that the painting is a poor forgery worth 10,000 euros at the most. Antoine has discovered that the thief was a former close friend of Catherine.

The question arises as to why Ms. Dutilleul would offer such an exorbitant price for a questionable work? Florence speculates that there might have been a more important painting hidden behind it. A work by Leonardo da Vinci could have been the secret as both works were completed about the same time and the da Vinci is of course priceless. Antoine feels that could be reason enough for someone to commit murder.

The new police duo decides to visit Catherine in person. She responds to their questioning by spinning a lengthy tale, loaded with her own fabrications. Florence is captivated by the story and fully understands Catherine’s actions regarding the work while Antoine believes none of it.

A lively discussion takes place between the duo when they return to headquarters. If the Anne of Brittany is a fake, who painted it? Who is the person authenticating the painting? How did Catherine’s husband come to own it in the first place and then donate it to a museum?

In discussing Florence’s vertigo/phobia conditions, her therapist explains that “counter-phobias” act like a child’s favorite blanket or snuggle-toy that the child must cuddle to help them fall asleep. Antione has become Florence’s counter phobic. In his presence, she can walk up and down stairs and gaze down into empty spaces.

Antione’s supervisor at the art theft squad insists he learn more about art to gain insights into the thinking of the perpetrators of the crimes under investigation. Florence and Antoine do need each other, especially when another crime is committed in an art school and Antoine is called to investigate.

This is a “should see” production.


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