Thursday, May 26, 2022

Stealing Rodin, on

It wasn't exactly a caper that would impress Raffles. In 2005, a thief basically walked out of Santiago’s Palace of Fine Arts with a Rodin sculpture on loan from Paris. It was a crime of opportunity and according to the perpetrator, a work of performance art. Somehow, almost all the talking heads sort of buy that in Cristobal Valenzuela Berrios’s documentary, Stealing Rodin, which premieres Friday on

Luis Emilio Onfray Fabres just happened to walk out of the museum with Rodin’s
Torso of Adele, during a reception, because nobody stopped him. To be fair, he returned it in less than a day. Apparently, he was quite taken aback by the resulting media furor and the potentially dire consequences for Chile’s standing with major international art museums. The whole point was to get people to appreciate it, in-a-heart-grows-fonder kind of way. Indeed, several commentators compare his Rodin theft to that of the Mona Lisa, which made the Da Vinci painting’s legend.

It is true attendance for the Rodin exhibit subsequently sky-rocketed. However, the film focuses solely on “L.E.O.F.’s” justifications. Nobody bothers to ask if any museum guards were fired as a result of the theft or how much the Museum’s insurance premiums were increased. The heart definitely grows fonder for lost jobs and operating revenue.

Granted, art thieves have developed a bit of a romantic reputation in films and novels, but taking great works of art out of museums, where the public can see them, is not progressive. In many ways,
Stealing Rodin reflects what is wrong with contemporary documentaries and journalism in general. It focuses on its chosen “narrative” and never tracks the unintended consequences. (Honestly, we need more economists making docs.)

Berrios largely adopts L.E.O.F.’s perspective on the crime, but the artist thief is not a naturally engaging screen presence. We come to sympathize with him based on his personal issues, but he is a moody and awkward interview subject.

Ironically, some of the most interesting parts of
Stealing Rodin are tangential points, like the artist’s proposed study for a monument depicting Chilean Gen. Patricio Lynch. However, as a filmmaker, Berrios just gets too close to his subject. It definitely could have been smarter and more insightful. For the curious, Stealing Rodin starts streaming Friday (5/27) on