Art docu unfolds with thriller exactitude

I was lost and now I am found.

“The Lost Leonardo” comes across as both a compelling documentary account on the value of fine art told in the manner of a cold-war thriller. Who owns the art controls the art.

The cast of characters could populate a Shakespeare play: the auction hunter, his financier and the art restorer they hire to bring to life a painting from the year 1500. After that a slew of high priced art consultants trace the value of a particular painting that skyrocketed in value from $1100 to $450-million. Then there are the billionaires who can afford to shell out hundreds of millions on items like a painting or a yacht.

Director Andreas Koefoed spills the beans in the opening segment complete with an animated map of the various paths the painting takes on a worldwide journey.

Yet like the thriller genre it emulates “The Lost Leonardo” makes you forget this opening montage, which reveals the home of the secret buyer, just as surely as audiences who first watched “Sunset Boulevard” easily forgot that the opening scene of a corpse floating in a swimming pool had anything to do with the ending.

You’re immersed in a shadowy world of art profiteers, legitimate consultants, and art storage facilities located in neutral territory such as international airports and exempt from tax consideration. In fact a fictional storage facility modeled after one shown in the movie was used in a segment of “Tenet.”

The woman who restored the painting, Dianne Modestini, has been alternatively called a charlatan as well as the hand behind the brilliant restoration of the ultimate lost treasure of the early-Renaissance: Leonardo da Vinci’s “Salvator Mundi.”

When the painting is sold by auction house Christie’s in 2017 the buyer’s identity is kept secret. Subsequently it’s revealed that the owner was in negotiations with the Louvre to display the painting but pulled out of the deal because the Paris museum would not display it in the same room as the Mona Lisa.

As the film closes it becomes apparent that the “Salvator Mundi” will become the centerpiece in the drive to establish Al Ula as the predominant art capital of the Middle East.

While all the factoids of “The Lost Leonardo” were new to this viewer, the actual chain of events and many of the players would be old news to anybody who follows art news.

“The Lost Leonardo” opens in theaters September 3.

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