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Paul Getty Jr.,
Two narrators, one seen and one unseen, discuss possible connections between a series of paintings. The on-screen narrator walks through three-dimensional reproductions of each painting, featuring real people, sometimes moving, in an effort to explain the series' significance. Written by
surrealism, art history, conspiracies and just plain weirdness
L'Hypothèse du tableau volé/The Hypothesis of the Stolen Painting (1979) begins in the courtyard of an old, three-story Parisian apartment building. Inside, we meet The Collector, an elderly man who has apparently devoted his life to the study of the six known existing paints of an obscure Impressionist-era painter, Tonnerre. A narrator recites various epigrams about art and painting, and then engages in a dialogue with The Collector, who describes the paintings to us, shows them to us, tells us a little bit about the painter and the scandal that brought him down, and then tells us he's going to show us something....
As he walks through a doorway, we enter another world, or worlds, or perhaps to stretch to the limits, other possible worlds. The Collector shows us through his apparently limitless house, including a large yard full of trees with a hill; within these confines are the 6 paintings come to life, or half-way to life as he walks us through various tableaux and describes to us the possible meanings of each painting, of the work as a whole, of a whole secret history behind the paintings, the scandal, the people in the paintings, the novel that may have inspired the paintings. And so on, and so on. Every room, every description, leads us deeper into a labyrinth, and all the while The Collector and The Narrator engage in their separate monologues, very occasionally verging into dialogue, but mostly staying separate and different.
I watched this a second time, so bizarre and powerful and indescribable it was, and so challenging to think or write about. If I have a guess as to what it all adds up to, it would be a sly satire of the whole nature of artistic interpretation. An indicator might be found in two of the most amusing and inexplicable scenes are those in which The Collector poses some sexless plastic figurines -- in the second of them, he also looks at photos taken of the figurines that mirror the poses in the paintings -- then he strides through his collection, which is now partially composed of life-size versions of the figures. If we think too much about it and don't just enjoy it, it all becomes just faceless plastic....
Whether I've come to any definite conclusions about "L'Hypothèse du tableau volé", or not, I can say definitely that outside of the early (and contemporaneous) works of Peter Greenaway like "A Walk Through H", I've rarely been so enthralled by something so deep, so serious, so dense....and at heart, so mischievous and fun.
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