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All The Vermeers In New York: tasteful portrait of 1990s Big Apple

Jon Jost’s scriptless film, which follows a French actor living in a crowded Manhattan flat, is a welcome balm for ‘Stay At Home January’

08 January, 2021 — By Dan Carrier

An artful period piece: All The Vermeers In New York

Directed by Jon Jost
Certificate: 12

JON Jost’s film-making career has deep roots in 1960s activism. He was imprisoned for refusing to be drafted to Vietnam, and on his release, he was a key member of a Chicago-based political film-making co-operative.

As well as having a firmly enlightened base from which to work from, he has a gentle way of telling a story, no matter what the subject. It means he treats his viewer with respect, and lets you join the dots yourself.

This is apparent in the re-release this week of his film, All The Vermeers In New York.

We meet Anna (Emmanuelle Chalet), a young French actor living in a crowded flat in Manhattan: surrounded by New York wealth, she is living in the middle of a rich person’s world but without two beans to rub together.

Go-getting stock marketeer Mark (Stephen Lack) spots her as she slowly peers at Vermeers at the Metropolitan Museum of Art – and the pair tentatively put out feelers towards each other, to see where each is coming from and whether, perhaps…

Jost shot the film scriptless, on the back of a vague idea of doing a piece on New York, the stock market, the art world and Vermeer.

It means the result feels natural, informal, and strangely works better for not having the shackles of a well-defined start, middle and end.

There is a wonderful turn by Gracie Mansion, who set up an East Village gallery bearing her name in the 1980s: she plays herself and her scenes are a delight.

Jost’s brilliance as a director gets her to unselfconsciously transmit what she does to the screen, while the two leads also shine.

Dating from the early 1990s, it feels like a period drama – the clothes, hair and language provide a historic window. And having a story with art – albeit across a hideous New York yuppie landscape – means it is all rather beautiful to gaze at, and with seeing visual treats in the flesh currently limited, this is a welcome balm for “Stay At Home January”.


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