Auction (2023)

May 2nd, 2024
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir/Wri: Pascal Bonitzer | France Drama 91’

Olivier Gourmet, Lea Drucker and Alex Lutz are the stars of this rather good arthouse thriller – written and directed by ex Cahiers du Cinema critic Pascal Bonitzer – in fact his tenth film – about the heady world of art auctioneering.

A deliciously caustic opening scene sets the tone for an intriguing affair set amid the beau monde of Mulhouse, New York and Paris where Andre (Alex Lutz) is an upscale auctioneer at ‘Scottie’s’ and has just landed a commission for a painting he believes to be a fake. Andre is at loggerheads with his trainee Aurore (Chevillotte) who ends up providing the missing link to the narrative, with an intriguing backstory.

Andre and his colleague and ex-wife Albertina (Drucker) decide to visit the long-lost painting that’s now hanging in the ordinary home of a shift worker Martin Keller in Mulhouse. It turns out to be the real work by Austrian expressionist painter Egon Schiele that was seized by the Nazis in 1939 and discarded as part of the Nazi purge of degenerate art. An Austrian Jew called Wahlburg had bought it in 1918 but had to escape Austria leaving it behind. Andre sees the unexpected find as an opportunity for promotion, and moves in quickly when Keller expresses no interest in it at all.

Andre and Albertina join forces with a provincial lawyer (Hamzawi) to track down the Wahlberg family in the shape of Bob Wahlberg who is one of nine heirs to the painting and a particularly generous man. He wants Martin to benefit from the canvas worth millions and be considered the tenth heir. Wahlberg is happy to sell it for 8 million. But Andre smells a rat and doesn’t want it to go for a song, as he considers the market for Schiele particularly strong. And that’s where Aurore comes in.

Auction is another juicy tongue in cheek satire with a hint of tension, and it looks really good too in Pierre Million’s camera with natural performances especially from Lutz and Drucker who dazzle with their stylish chemistry. The only bum note – a cheeky lesbian twist which feels contrived and serves no real purpose. @MeredithTaylor 


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