The Da Vinci Code has been lambasted for obscuring known fact with outlandish fiction. Another art thriller, Stolen, offers the real McCoy. This 84-minute documentary, arriving Friday at the Roxy in Burlington, traces a 1990 heist of priceless paintings from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.
The 103-year-old Boston cultural landmark looks no less sinister than the Louvre, as it's depicted in the blockbuster Hollywood film. Stolen's ominous mise-en-scène owes much to the cinematography skills of both director Rebecca Dreyfus and the legendary Albert Maysles (Gimme Shelter). They certainly know how to capture the Victorian penchant for gloomy ambiance.
Dreyfus has turned a potentially dry educational film into a robbery investigation peppered with international intrigue. Her focus is the unsolved theft of 13 canvases worth $500 million. Works by Rembrandt, Degas, Manet and Vermeer went out the door with culprits wearing police uniforms.
While examining a modern-day puzzle, Dreyfus also dramatizes Gardner's correspondence with Bernard Berenson, who scouted Europe for masterpieces to hang in her elegant Beantown showcase. These long-dead letter writers come alive in the narration provided by Blythe Danner and Campbell Scott.
A contemporary archivist discusses the 1892 auction at which Berenson successfully bid on "The Concert," a Vermeer that has now vanished. The painting -- analyzed at length by experts, including Girl with a Pearl Earring author Tracy Chevalier -- is one of only 35 the Dutchman created. Its disappearance leaves the biggest hole of all in the art world.
The most riveting person on camera is Harold Smith, a preeminent fine-art detective in a homburg, eye patch and plastic prosthesis covering a nose decimated by his five-decade battle with skin cancer. Dreyfus only has time for a quick profile of this fascinating figure before returning to the burglary's murky aftermath, which includes a $5 million reward for information that leads to the lost loot.
While a telephone tip-line records numerous conspiracy theories proffered by the public, Smith meets with a hyperactive British informer who points to the Irish underworld and a Massachusetts mob kingpin. No idea is too unfathomable in Stolen, a suspenseful yarn about a crime that's still unfolding.
Representatives from several peace and veterans groups will speak at the Roxy during this weekend's opening of Sir! No Sir!. David Zeiger's remarkable documentary remembers the antiwar sentiment that rippled through stateside military bases and Vietnam battlefields during the 1960s. It's a must-see movie as the My Lai era resonates ever more vividly in these post-Haditha times. Local link alert: Early scenes incorporate footage shot by Charlotte resident John Douglas at a Texas coffeehouse patronized by dissident GIs. Hoo-ra.
Activists concerned about Iraq will cross paths with environmentalists setting up tables in the lobby for the concurrent Vermont premiere of An Inconvenient Truth, a treatise on global warming that stars the Earth in the Balance author and almost-president Al Gore.
Jon Kilik is back home in New York City after a May visit to the Cannes Film Festival. The 1978 University of Vermont grad produced Babel, a feature that earned Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu the much-coveted prize for best director.
"We had not screened it anywhere before," Kilik points out, adding that the audience "seemed extremely enthusiastic."
The press has been positive, as well. Variety describes Babel as "gripping," with "unshowy, naturalistic performances" by Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Gael Garcia Bernal and other actors -- many of them nonprofessionals.
Writer Guillermo Arriaga, who collaborated with Inarritu on 21 Grams, was inspired by the Genesis tale of a tower Babylonians began building as a proverbial stairway to heaven. God uttered the biblical equivalent of "No way, dudes!" and zapped their ability to understand each other. They scattered all over the planet, which theoretically resulted in different races and languages.
Set in Morocco, Japan, Mexico and the U.S., Babel imagines how this ancient human disconnect might play out in today's world. "It's original, unusual art-house storytelling that we hope will also appeal to the mainstream," notes Kilik, who has worked with such illustrious filmmakers as Spike Lee (Inside Man), Julian Schnabel (When Night Falls) and Oliver Stone (Alexander).
Scheduled for an October release by Paramount, the Inarritu picture benefited from the use of "real locations and real people," Kilik says. "A lot of things evolved in the process of going from the page to the screen."
Speaking of evolution, this was the UVM alum's seventh trek to the glitzy French Riviera event. C'est si bon.