January 1, 2022

F for Fake (1973)
Grade: 59/100

Director: Orson Welles
Stars: Orson Welles, Oja Kodar, Elmyr de Hory

What it's about. A documentary of sorts on fakery. Mostly, it is about Elmyr de Hory, a talented Hungarian painter known for his forgeries in the style of more famous artists, particularly Amedeo Modigliani. After many years in Europe and America, Elmyr settled in Ibiza, an island off the Eastern coast of Spain.

In 1969, author Clifford Irving wrote a book about Elmyr, exposing him as a forger. Irving appears in F for Fake discussing Elmyr. Welles notes the irony that, not long after, Irving was exposed as a faker himself, after Howard Hughes refuted his purported autobiography that Irving had sold to McGraw-Hill for hundreds of thousands of dollars.

How others will see it. The sole festival success of F for Fake came at the Sant Jordi Awards in Barcelona, where it won Best Foreign Film. Barcelona is only 200 miles by plane from Ibiza.

Although it made little stir upon release, the film's status has improved over the years. Today at imdb.com, it has a respectable 16K user votes and a high user rating of 7.8 out of 10. The rating does drop with the advancing age of the viewer. Those under age 30 grade it 8.1, while the over-45 crowd grants it only a 7.3.

The user reviews are all over the map. Some regard it as an incoherent mess. Interest in Elmyr, Irving, and even Kodar seems limited. Most instead evaluate Orson Welles, the lauded director of Citizen Kane, and favor the film due to Welles' bemused charisma and eccentric editing.

How I felt about it. F for Fake was the only completed feature-length film that Welles made during the last 20 years of his life. He attempted other dramatic features (The Heroine (1967), The Deep (1970), Don Quixote (1972)), but he would fall out with his producers and run out of money.

These projects often involved Oja Kodar, the loyal mistress of Welles since 1961. A beautiful Croatian model, Kodar had ambitions as an actress, screenwriter, director, and producer, but F for Fake remains her most noteworthy credit.

F for Fake was released in 1973, too early to record what eventually happened to the film's leads. Elmyr committed suicide in 1976 to avoid deportation to France, who wanted to put him on trial for fraud. Clifford Irving spent 17 months in prison for his bold scheme to exploit the reclusive notoriety of Howard Hughes. Welles spent the last 12 years of his life shuttling between his homes in Hollywood and Las Vegas, with Kodar in the former and Welles' wife Paola Mori in the latter. The two women never met.

F for Fake is less interesting as a work in its own right, than as the best source to show the personalities of Elmyr, Irving, and Kodar. We see the formidable Kodar in the nude and and in swimsuits, but Elmyr is the most fascinating of the three.

Although a forger, Elmyr was often victimized by his agents, who pocketed much of the proceeds of selling his art to galleries, who in turn reportedly sold them for handsome profits. But the law came after Elmyr. The irony continued after Elmyr's death, when forgeries of Elmyr's paintings began to circulate.

F for Fake ends with a needless tall tall of elderly Pablo Picasso as a Peeping Tom of a woman who regularly walked by his home. He hired her as a nude model, gave her the paintings, and was enraged when she sold them to a gallery. Welles then informs us that the entire story is fake. Picasso died earlier in 1973, and thus had no comment to make.