Chicago International Film Festival hosts sneak peek of "The Lost Leonardo" film

“The Lost Leonardo,” a Sony Pictures Classics film about the long and twisted mystery behind the world’s most expensive painting.

The Chicago International Film Festival hosted an advance screening last night (August 17) of “The Lost Leonardo” at the AMC River East 21. Attendees got a chance to hear from executive producer Mark Mitten about this fascinating documentary that attempts to unravel the mystery surrounding the world’s most expensive painting. Mitten, an Academy Award-nominated, Emmy Award-winning film producer, said, “This is a film about money, a film about power and greed but, most of all, it’s a film about belief.”

For me, a total art and antique geek, it was this and so much more. Based on a book (“The Last Leonardo”) by Ben Lewis, “The Lost Leonardo” is a brilliant documentary (directed by Danish filmmaker Andreas Koefoed) about how two minor players in the art world uncovered, arguably, one of the most important paintings of the last 100 years, Salvator Mundi, a portrait of Christ purportedly painted by Leonardo DaVinci. Some art publications have referred to it as the “male Mona Lisa.”

Discovered in 2005 by “sleeper hunter” Alexander Parish and his financial partner Robert Simon, Salvator Mundi (Latin for ‘Saviour of the World’) was purchased from a New Orleans auction house for $1175. In 2017, it sold for $450 million, making it the most expensive work of art ever sold.

The film follows its exciting and remarkable journey across the world from its questionable restoration, to mysterious ‘free ports,’ to Christie’s and ultimately to one of the few people in the world who could afford to buy it, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Muhammad bin Salman (MBS for short).

The attention to detail in this doc is astounding and how they achieved some of the shots and insider information is mind-blowing. In my interview with executive producer Mitten and another ED, Ken Pelletier, they said the film has taken 4 years to create and that they first were pitched the project at Sundance Film Festival and then again at the Berlin Film Festival in 2019. That’s when they agreed to sign up to become part of the production. 

Mitten, an art collector himself, said, “Everybody knows who Leonardo is, whether it’s Leonardo DiCaprio [who makes a cameo appearance in the film] or DaVinci, so I knew it would have broad appeal from a global standpoint.”

Throughout the film, fascinating details are presented for and against the painting being authentic. Christie’s genius marketing tactics surrounding its controversial selling of the painting is a film unto itself.

Michael Kutza, founder of the Chicago International Film Festival, had these thoughts. “The movie is a terrific detective story that’s actually about greed…We all want the painting to be real…The marketing at Christie’s was like a Las Vegas review, it was outrageous.”

One of the pieces of information presented against the painting being authentic stood out for me. There is a knot of wood on the painting that experts say would never be there had the artwork been done by DaVinci because he was such a stickler/perfectionist for the wood he chose to paint on.

I asked Mitten if he thought Salvator Mundi was by the hand of the master and he replied, “I think it’s whatever you believe it is.” I believe this film is a must-see.

The film opens in theaters across the country this Friday, August 20, and will be also be shown at the Music Box Theatre (3733 N. Southport) beginning August 27. (First published here in Chicago Star)

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