Filmed in just eight weeks by an Argentine director Gastón Duprat, the film “Masterpiece” (Mi Obra Maestra), although is not a masterpiece, nevertheless deserves the utmost attention. The film tells a seemingly simple, but topical story on how the modern art market works full of unexpected twists and turns.
As the director points out, his film is primarily about the fraud in the art sphere, but also about friendship. Moreover, what is especially pleasant is that the story is told sincerely and without a shadow of moralizing.
The plot of the film “Masterpiece” revolves around two old friends. Arturo Silva (played by Guillermo Francella) is a successful art dealer. He runs an art gallery where the work of his friend, Renzo Nervi (Luis Brandoni) are presented. Once a legend of Argentine painting, Renzo Nervi is now in his downfall. Nervi is a classical artist – a selfish, sloppy, temperamental, conservative and eternally grumbling misanthrope who does not care about public opinion, and strongly follows his principles. While a feisty, energetic and elegant Arturo stops at nothing to improve the financial and mental state of his friend.
First, it is worth noting the excellent script created by Andrés Duprat, who is a director of the National Museum of Fine Arts of Buenos Aires and the one who knows the world of art like no other. Besides succeeding in the portraying the backstage of the art business illustratively, he also managed to create subtle and profound characters, gained incredible convincingness having been performed by Luis Brandoni and Guillermo Fransella, the latter is known for his work in the Oscar-winning film “The Mystery in His Eyes,” 2009. At the same time, intriguing plot moves have refreshed the narrative, woven by the authors into the canvas of the story.
Those who seek for picturesque shots also have nothing to worry about. The camera was able to capture the individuality of cosmopolitan Buenos Aires, the exquisite aesthetics of its galleries, as well as win-win panoramas of Brazilian Rio de Janeiro and Argentine northern province of Jujuy.
Art as an idea
It is not the first time that the art in general and the relationship between the artist and his works inspire Duprat’s films. In 2008, his conceptual work “The Artist” appeared. Actually, it also covered a story on the art fraud. In 2017, another Duprat’s film “The Distinguished Citizen” (Spanish: El ciudadano ilustre) was released in Russia. The film protagonist was a famous writer who, in his own manner, explored the problem of creative search. “The Distinguished Citizen” was particularly well-received by critics. It was awarded a Volpi Cup for Best Actor in the 2016 Venice Film Festival.
The film “Masterpiece” was presented in the out-of-competition program of the Venice Film Festival in 2018 and received a lot of positive feedback, though not any significant awards. In Russia, the film was shown in 2019 by several dozen cinemas. 12 thousand viewers watched it there.
To tell the truth, of the two works by Duprat released in Russia, the film “Masterpiece” is perhaps more successful in terms of its realization. Both storylines touch on interesting topics that do not often fall into the focus of filmmakers, but “The Distinguished Citizen” is too long and therefore boring. Filmed almost like a home video, even with an exceptionally charismatic protagonist, it seems tedious. The film “Masterpiece”, on the contrary, is simply overflowing with the most interesting images and allusions, at the same time it is extremely scrupulous in terms of aesthetic, and disembarrassed of imposition.
“Masterpiece” – a guide to contemporary Argentine art
Even if you have already seen the film “Masterpiece”, we suggest you watching it again. This time, be ready to pause the playback regularly to take a look at dozens of pieces of contemporary Argentine art, google them and admire them in detail. Here are just some interesting examples.
The film opens with the painting “Northern Landscape” (Spanish: Paisaje Norte). It was created just for filming by the famous Argentine painter Germán Gárgano. You can get a closer look at it or see other works of Gárgano on his official website.
Germán Gárgano was a political prisoner during the dictatorship in Argentina (1976-1983), and after his release, in 1982, he took up painting closely. His style is very expressive, dramatically intense and passionate. The colour is of particular importance for him. The artist is not afraid to use it to convey independent meanings.
If you’ve been to Buenos Aires, you might have seen Gargano’s “Sanctuary” at one of the metro stations, Pueyrredón. The style of the mosaic reminds to some extent a style of his teacher – Carlos Gorriarena, whose work is hidden in the film “Masterpiece” behind the art of the character of Renzo Nervi.
Carlos Gorriarena (1925–2007) is considered one of the most prominent Argentine painters of the second half of the twentieth century. He was participated in politics, was a member of the Communist Party and believed painting to be an important tool for social transformation. His works are imbued with satire and grotesque. They are very distinctive in terms of form, with blurred and distorted contours, and mostly in terms of colour. For his use of an exceptionally bright, contrasting palette, he was known as a “master of colour.” Gorriarena always encouraged his students to discover their unique colours.
In addition to this rather obvious reference to the figure of Gorriarena, the filmmakers used works by other Argentine artists, which can be much more difficult to notice for a viewer who is distant from the art (especially Argentine art).
For example, in Arturo’s office, the two paintings on the wall behind the sofa are a diptych on a tree by Eduardo Iglesias Brickles.
For Brickles (1944–2012) politics also was an important part of his art. The fact that is typical of Argentine artists, and of Argentine society as a whole, which is as passionate at politics as at football. Brickles himself noted that his artistic style was influenced by expressionism, pop art, comics and Soviet propaganda posters of the 1920s.
It was especially important for the filmmakers to recreate the atmosphere of a dynamic and provocative art environment. Therefore, one of the exhibitions in the Arturo’s gallery is visited by a critic who declined Renzo’s art, but acknowledged the vision of the young artist Carlos Herrera, whose works by no means impress Renzo himself.
Another gallery, where Arturo meets his colleague, holds an exhibition of works by Eduardo Stupía.
Stupía is a renowned artist who reinterpreted graphics and engraving under the postmodernism. Critics note a double perspective in his paintings: from afar, the canvases are nothing more than a graphic abstraction, but upon closer examination, the eyes catch some individual images, which are largely formed subjectively, based on individual sociocultural experience.
Above Stupía’s black-and-white engravings, a colourful geometric abstractionist canvas stands out. It belongs to another distinctive Argentine artist – Tulio de Sagastizábal. Sagastizábal came to abstractionism in search of freedom after several years of figurative painting. He himself calls his works “suspended images” filled with identity.
In the office of the gallery owner Dudú, an even greater number of pieces of art appear. Among the most recognizable are a smaller copy of Leon Ferrari‘s “Western Christian Civilization” and “Pop Girl” by Martin Di Girolamo.
To some extent watching this film is like a putting together puzzle pieces. The footages are literally filled from the top down with dozens of works of art, that are intended to be spotted. And this attempt by the authors to bring national art to an international audience is especially inspiring.
The film “Masterpiece” is full of virtues. It sparks curiosity and causes a warm smile, leaving the feeling of a pleasant aftertaste, often lacked after watching Hollywood blockbusters.