PORTRAIT OF WALLY (Andrew Shea). 90 minutes. Some subtitles. Opens Tuesday (February 12) at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema. For times, see listings. Rating: NNNN
There is a painting by Egon Schiele of his mistress, Valerie Neuzil, that once hung in the home of Lea Bondi, a Jewish gallery owner in Vienna. The Nazis confiscated it in 1939, and though Bondi recovered much of her collection after the war, this painting went to the Austrian National Gallery. And then things got complicated.
The journey of the painting, and the Bondi family's efforts to reclaim it, are the meaty subjects of Andrew Shea's engrossing documentary Portrait Of Wally. The painting isn't just a painting, of course; it's a symbol of the injustices visited on Europe's Jews during the Holocaust and of the ethical blindness that allowed other art collectors to trade in works that were clearly not theirs to buy or sell.
Shea tells his story in a direct, uncluttered sequence of talking heads and archival footage, underscored where appropriate by ominous music, the better to organize its complexities.
There's also the issue of a different sort of possession, since the painting itself is an artist's portrait of his own lover: can anyone other than Schiele really lay claim to something so intimate?
Well, of course they can. Anything can be acquired, no matter how personal or precious. That's the whole point.