It Takes a Thief. Movies Reviewed: Mona Lisa is Missing, The Life and Crimes of Doris Payne, The Rover

Posted in Action, African-Americans, Art, Australia, Crime, Cultural Mining, documentary, Italy, Movies, Thriller, Trial, Uncategorized, violence by CulturalMining.com on June 20, 2014

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM, looking at high-brow and low-brow movies, indie, cult, foreign, festival, documentary, genre and mainstream films, helping you see movies with good taste, movies that taste good, and how to tell the difference.

Pickpockets, muggers, robbers and burglars… are people, too. Or so say these movies. This week, I’m looking at films with sympathetic portraits of thieves. There’s a car thief in Australia, a jewel thief from the US, and an art thief from Italy.

Mona Lisa is Missing Poster 2ff8bf_9878fe15b22b4418aabce26c8607bcd4.jpg_srz_244_215_75_22_0.50_1.20_0.00_jpg_srzMona Lisa is Missing
Dir: Joe Medeiros

Vincenzo Perruggia is a name that lives on in infamy as the man who stole the Mona Lisa in 1912. This documentary looks at the theft with a new eye.

Peruggia is an Italian migrant in France in the early 20th century. He works as a house painter – a very dangerous job, because of the constant exposure to lead paint. Some people say it made him addle-brained. Later, he takes a job as a security guard at the Louvre in Paris. But Parisians look down on Italian labourers, calling him “macaroni” and treating him like a fool.

But he shows them. He single-handedly walks out of the museum carrying Leonardo Da Vinci’s La Giaconda – now known as the Mona Lisa – under one arm. He keeps it hidden for two years, evading the most famous detective in Paris. He is only caught when he tries to repatriate it back to Italy.

Is he an idiot? Or a genius? An Italian patriot or just in it for the money?Mona Lisa is Missing Celestina Peruggia

This documentary has a light, humorous tone, but is meticulously researched. The filmmaker goes back to the original sources – letters, police files, period photos – and even tracks down his 80-year-old daughter, Celestina. What I found most interesting is that the Mona Lisa’s current fame is, in a large part, due to the publicity generated when it was stolen. Before Peruggia, it was just one painting among many. Now, it’s The Mona Lisa.

The Life and Crimes of Doris Payne Red021611The Life and Crimes of Doris Payne
Dir: Kirk Marcolina, Matthew Pond

Doris Payne was born to an African-American father and a Cherokee mother in a poor, coal-mining town in West Virginia. She’s a beautiful child – too beautiful. Her dad tries to beat the prettiness right out of her. So she vows to get out of there, erase her past and create a new one.

She establishes herself as a gentle, elegant, upper-class woman. And how does she support herself? As an international jewel thief, jet-setting to London, Paris and Monte Carlo. She’s a lover, not a fighter. No one is harmed, no weapons, no hold-ups. She steals from famous stores, never individuals. She’s actually a con-artist, and when things go right, the jewellers the life and times of Doris_Payne_3don’t even know something is missing until after she’s long gone.

Her techniques are fascinating. She’s like a magician, moving the jewelry around, palming but never pocketing her prey. As long as the jewel is in her hand she can always dispose of it. She tells stories about her past adventures, like a clever escape involving a nun, a pair of scissors and a needle and thread. She’s a master of disguises.Using merely a scarf or a wig she can turn herself from a haughty aristocrat into a humble nurse in seconds.

If her life sounds like a Hollywood caper, that’s because it is – or will be. They’re developing a film about her (starring Halle Berry). The screenwriter tells part of her story. But this is a documentary about — and starring — the wanted poster Doris and Babe The Life and Crimes of Doris_Payne_2real Doris Payne. And her current life is far from glamorous.

She’s still stealing jewels, at age 80! The movie follows her – and her defense lawyer — during a trial about her latest alleged theft (she denies everything, of course.)

Will Doris ever come clean? Has she really given up that life? And what can she do without the thrill of the Steal? This is a fascinating documentary, about a strong-willed and unrepentant black woman, and her rise and fall as the world’s best jewelry thief.

_ROW8158.tifThe Rover
Dir: David Michôd

A grizzled, angry man (Guy Pearce) sits in his dusty car by the side of the road. It’s the Australian outback – mining country: vast deserts punctuated by ramshackle aluminum huts. (Not a kangaroo in sight, just menacing birds of prey.) He goes into a roadside shop to wash up. At the same time, a jeep is powering down the highway, with three men inside having it out. They’re fighting. One of them, Henry, wants to turn back to save his brother. They left him dying on the road after a shootout. The others say no. And in the scuffle, the jeep plows through a pile of roadside junk. It’s stuck. So they steal a nearby car – the one left by grizzled, angry man – and off they go.

Out comes the first guy — he wants his car back. He climbs into the stalled jeep and gets it moving again. And so begins a violent, 90-minute road movie/chase scene/shoot out. On the way, he passes your typical outback The Roverattractions: gambling dens, gun runners, an all-male brothel, a crucified man… Wait. What?!

That’s where you realize: this isn’t normal Australia. It’s some futuristic, post-apocalyptic, Mad Max Australia. Only US dollars taken here. Chinese is the language of commerce. And if you kill someone there is no police, no army there to arrest you. It’s like the old west, but without any White Hats.

On the way he meets Rey (an uglified Robert Pattinson) the brother left dying on the road. Grizzled guy would just as soon shoot him as save him, but he needs information. So he brings him to a doctor and nurses him back to life. The two of them form an unwitting pair of road buddies – the angry and bitter older man, and the younger, idealistic slow-talker. (Rey’s a hapless oakie looking for a new father figure.) Will they find the three men – and the missing car?

_ROW3868-Edit.tifThis is a chilling, eerie and extremely violent movie. It feel like a Clint Eastwood spaghetti western. Pearce is excellent as the nameless, hollow-hearted drifter. Pattinson (the Twilight heartthrob) is unrecognizable as Rey — and I mean that in a good sense. Even though the story makes you want to curl up and die — is that all there is? — it’s still worth seeing.

The Rover and The Life and Crimes of Doris Payne both open today in Toronto – check your local listings. The Mona Lisa is Missing played at the Italian Contemporary Film Festival. Go to icff.ca for details.

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Friday morning on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website, culturalmining.com

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