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TRIBECA 2021

Andreas Koefoed • Director of The Lost Leonardo

“Humans have an urge to experience art and use it to bring meaning to their lives”

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- The Danish director has presented his new documentary, depicting the turbulent tale of a lost Leonardo da Vinci painting, at Tribeca

Andreas Koefoed  • Director of The Lost Leonardo
(© Erika Svensson/Sony Pictures Classics)

With The Lost Leonardo [+see also:
trailer
interview: Andreas Koefoed
film profile
]
, Danish director Andreas Koefoed retraces the thrilling journey that the supposed Salvator Mundi by Leonardo da Vinci made through the world of art and politics. We talked to him about his visual concept and the major challenges he was confronted with during the making of the film, which has just screened at Tribeca.

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Cineuropa: How did your adventure with the film start?
Andreas Koefoed:
In 2018, I was contacted by one of the producers of the film, who is also a friend of mine. He told me about this incredible story, which started 12 years ago and had so many intriguing ingredients, so many twists and turns. It is a story stranger than fiction, with fantastic characters. The starting point were the two art dealers from New York who accompany the painting on its journey. Then, more elements came into it, such as the oligarch and the political world, which uses art to rebrand itself. In total, we spent three years on the film.

Did you have any experience with the art world before? How did you do your research?
I had no experience in the art world at the beginning. I worked with a British art critic, who was involved in the project and gave me precious insights. At some point, we parted ways, and he wrote a book about the story on his own.

How did it work with the different interviewees? For the restorer and Yves Bouvier, it seems clear that you met them several times. Was it the same for the others? Was it easy to convince them to talk?
In the first place, it was necessary to build up a relationship of trust, in order to be able to let everyone share their experience and to tell their story. They had to feel that they were in capable hands and that we weren't just searching for a sensational story. We started with a “master interview” with the key characters, which lasted about two hours. For some, we also had follow-up interviews and some more active scenes. The important thing was to be able to follow the journey of the restorer. She spent four years with the painting and had a symbiotic relationship with it, since she started working on it shortly after the death of her husband. She faced extreme criticism and fought against gigantic powers and institutions. Her intimate human story was crucial in order to show the extreme contrasts in the story.

How did you get in contact with Yves Bouvier?
He wanted to tell his story after his dispute with the Russian oligarch who sued him in several countries. He had to hire 40 lawyers to help him, and he lost most of his business. He saw the film as a platform from which he could gain something, or a way to win some appreciation. Of course, we were aware of it and had to be cautious to maintain the balance. This is why we wanted to include different views on Bouvier – he is a fascinating character.

Were there any legal issues that you had to deal with? Were there people who asked to be taken out of the film?
Fortunately not. But we were confronted with a lot of closed doors at the big institutions, which played a crucial role in the story of the painting. They didn't want to participate and thought it would be better to stay silent. It means that part of the truth is lost and we were not able to tell the full story. It's a sad conclusion of the film: that, in a way, art itself is also often lost, defeated by the interests of those who wield the power.

How did you develop the visual concept of the film?
For the interviews, the people had to look straight into the lens. I wanted this direct contact and thought it would be very powerful. Since the painting itself looks directly at the viewer, this concept made sense. I was inspired by the painting and Renaissance art. Da Vinci was an artist who focused both on action and on the psychological elements of his characters.

What were the biggest challenges you had to face?
The closed doors that I mentioned, but at the same time, this was part of the story itself. Because of the pandemic, we couldn't travel as much as we needed to. It was also a challenge to combine all of these different narratives and the many stories. To tell it in a more profound manner, a series format would have been easier.

What is the most important thing you would say you have learned by making this movie?
That art has been lost. The experience of art is supposed to be pure: humans have an urge for it and use it to bring meaning to their lives. In a way, this need is being abused by cynical powers. Moreover, I realised that we all have an affinity for fairy tales, and they make us lose our critical eye. Only one person was brave enough in the story to say from the beginning that the painting was not an original.

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