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The Lost Leonardo review – amusing Da Vinci doc ends up going in circles

Shining a harsh light on the world of art dealership, Andreas Koefoed's film is fun and funny, though ultimately a bit shallow

There’s a perverse joy in a documentary that makes almost all of its subjects look like blathering fools, and it’s in this joy that The Lost Leonardo makes its home. This account of wilful disbelief and perhaps outright fraud in the art world doesn’t exactly paint its milieu in a flattering light. It makes for a fun and funny film, but one that gets a bit lost in its own absurdity and ends up going in circles for much of its runtime.

The inciting incident is the sale of a dusty, badly maintained painting to a well-connected art dealer for a measly $1,100. Before long, this dealer was making rumblings about his piece being “Salvatore Mundi,” a lost painting of Christ by Leonardo da Vinci – perhaps the last Da Vinci that would ever be found – and had set up a tidy deal with a Russian billionaire to get rid of it to the tune of $83 million.

From there, the sums get even more astronomical, especially once the Saudis get involved, but the question remains throughout of the piece’s authenticity. Some collectors and critics say it was probably by a student of a student of Da Vinci, others doubt even that. The Lost Leonardo shines a light on a truly absurd world, where millions, or even billions, of dollars' worth of assets can just disappear based on the whims of bickering academics.

The talking heads are cut together expertly, everyone involved diminishing and disagreeing with their peers in a way that’s consistently funny, but The Lost Leonardo doesn’t quite have enough material for its full runtime. The more propulsive bits of the story, especially the final auction, are gripping, but there are only so many times you can hear “this painting might not be authentic, and art collectors are gullible weirdos” before you start to tune it out.

The Lost Leonardo is now in UK cinemas.

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