Stories about art heists or art forgeries make good material for movies and books. IFFI 2016 featured ‘A Real Vermeer’ (2016), a Dutch film on the life of an obscure artist Han van Meegeren (1889-1947). Van Meegeren, a struggling artist who forged the paintings of Johannes Vermeer, the Dutch master who painted ‘The Girl with a Pearl Earring’. Van Meegeren is put on trial for fraud and treason, and finally sentenced to a year in prison only for fraud. The leading actors of the film, Jeroen Spitzenberger and Lize Feryn were in attendance at the screening. They extensively spoke to The Peacock about their engagement with Dutch art and cinema.
Spitzenberger, who lives in Rotterdam, The Netherlands is best known for his supporting role in the Dutch film ‘Twin Sister’ (2002) which was nominated for the Oscars 2003. Feryn, made her debut film with ‘A Real Vermeer’, and lives in Antwerp, Belgium. Before, she acted in ‘In Vlaamse Velden’ (2014, In Flemish Fields).
While the film draws on the biographical details of Van Meegeren, the filmmakers have also used fiction to weave the narrative of the film. “My wild guess is…60 to 65 percent,” says Spitzenberger. “I would say exactly the same,” Feryn concurs.
Was the film inspired by the story of Vincent van Gogh: a struggling artist with his fair share of eccentricities (to put it mildly)? “To be honest, no,” feels Spitzenberger. “But when you put it that ways…yeah I understand the association. I have been talking about the 60 percent truth in the movies…the writers, Rudolph van den Berg and Jan Eilander may have been inspired by frustrated, struggling artists.”
Spitzenberger explains, “The film is about the development of a young artist, who in the end becomes a forger – in a way he imitates his idol in painting. He is unable, unfortunately, to find his own voice, his own style of painting.” Spitzenberger also reflects on the rather fuzzy boundaries between forgery and art. With some caveats, he tells the audience that he personally does consider some forgery to be art. He explains further to this reporter, “What’s the difference between forgery and art? When are you a true artist? Does it depend on your perception? Does it depend on money? Does it depend on the approval of an audience? It’s a weird relationship that the artists share with the audience.”
Who are their favorite Dutch artists? While Spitzenberger prefers “magisch realisme” or magic realism for art (though he says he likes Vermeer when Feryn prods him), Feryn on the other hand prefers Vermeer: “He puts emotion in his work. I remember as a kid I went to see ‘The Girl with a Pearl Earring’… and I was impressed by the colors, and the depth, the light, the serenity, and the perfect beauty. Even if you enlarge a small part of the painting and observe the detail in it, it will still be beautiful,” she says.
‘A Real Vermeer’ was set in the background of the Second World War. It seems like the World Wars provide a setting for many Dutch and Belgian movies. “I think in Belgium the First World War has a huge impact. But the Second…I don’t know…” she says. The Second World War provides a setting for more movies in the Netherlands. Spitzenberger feels that using the Second World War might be a bit overdone, though he is not entirely against it. “As an actor I hope to be on a very long journey of different films. You don’t want to be the guy who only wears a uniform,” he feels.
“In Belgium we make different movies that in Holland,” Feryn informs, “they choose the safe commercial approach – like romantic comedy, and we (in Belgium) go more with art house.”
Spitzenberger further elaborates, “There is a lack of good story-telling in the Netherlands. The big complaint is that there is not much attention, money, and training giving to script-writers…Young writers need to be given a chance,” he strongly feels.
Both Spitzenberger and Feryn were happy to be in Goa. “A cinema festival can bind people,” Spitzenberger stresses. “It is a very hopeful thing, right? There should be more of such festivals – of poetry, of music, or of food, or anything…it doesn’t matter.”
(A version of this article was first published in The Peacock, 28 November, 2016)