Close to Vermeer (2023)

Close to Vermeer (2023)

A fascinating peek into the art world, and a tribute to the pursuit of beauty



Dutch, English, German
Documentary, History
Abbie Vandivere, Anna Krekeler, Gregor J. M. Weber
77 min


Turns out that watching paint dry is actually really emotionally satisfying.

What it's about

In preparation for the largest exhibition of works by enigmatic Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer, several art experts study the pieces and try to unlock their mysteries.

The take

Less a documentary on Johannes Vermeer himself and more about the art scholar's mission to study ideas of beauty and aesthetics from various perspectives, this documentary successfully takes an admittedly very esoteric subject and makes it compelling. Director Suzanne Raes easily gets to the essence of the complex questions and insights that these Vermeer experts have, but without dumbing them down or reducing them into generic academic talking points. In fact, the thing that really comes through in the film's discussions is the emotion that these people feel in figuring out how Vermeer managed to paint such stunning images, and what the man was drawn to in human beings. It's oddly persuasive; whether or not you're a fan of 17th-century artists, watching Close to Vermeer feels like finally solving a puzzle.

What stands out

Raes' best technique in her director's bag is when she gives us the time and the quiet to observe some of Vermeer's works on our own. After hearing some of the experts discuss specific pieces, Raes gives us our turn to interpret things for ourselves, but without holding our hand. It's these serene moments, where she allows us to be alone in a room with Vermeer (something that most of us are likely never going to be able to do in our lifetimes), that show how much Raes respects her audience and how strongly she believes that great art can truly speak for itself, whether or not we feel we have the knowledge to "get" it.


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