THE $50 MILLION ART SWINDLE

BBC, 2019

The film is fabulous; a stonkingly good romp. Papillon meets The Goldfinch meets The Great Train Robbery.”
The Guardian

This feature-length documentary tells the remarkable story of a rogue art dealer who swindled over $50 million from the art establishment before going on the run.  Michel Cohen, a popular and charming New York art dealer was originally from France.  A high school drop-out from a poor background, Cohen was a self-invented man who went on to become a rich and successful art dealer, with homes in Malibu and New York.  Throughout the 1990s, he sold paintings by artists such as Picasso, Monet and Chagall to America’s wealthiest elite.  Cohen was living the high life until he began trading recklessly in the stock market and ran up considerable debts.  In an attempt to recoup his losses, he began acting dishonestly, eventually swindling private collectors, auction houses and other art dealers out of more than $50 million.  When his swindles were discovered, he fled the USA with his wife and two small children and went on the run.  In 2003, he was found by Interpol in Brazil and was imprisoned in Rio de Janeiro, but seven months later, whilst awaiting extradition to the USA, he escaped from prison and vanished off the face of the earth.  Sixteen years later, Vanessa Engle managed to track him down and persuade him to tell his extraordinary story, in a highly entertaining crime caper, which is also a rich exploration of greed, morality and the power of delusion.


PRESS

“The $50m Art Swindle had one of the best openings to a documentary I’ve seen. It was a great TV moment when Cohen sat down and quietly gave his name. This was splendid TV: a detective story and arty film in one.”
The Times
“A mesmerising documentary. The fact that film-maker Vanessa Engle actually tracked Cohen down is fantastic. His story is told here with jet set flair.”
Daily Mail
“Engle is a brilliant and singular film-maker, and this one comes with all her trademarks. Punctuated with wobbly old footage of Houdini types wrestling with chains, its soundtrack features Edith Piaf and Jacques Brel, and her manner, as she quizzes Cohen, is typically wry. But while she has always been dogged – she has the trench coat instincts of an old-fashioned investigative reporter – in this film, her tenacity reaches another level.”
The New Statesman
“It is a wild, thrilling ride examining how greed and success dovetail in a society that bases trust largely upon appearances.”
The Guardian
“Vanessa Engle’s marvellous feature-length The $50m Art Swindle felt like a work of fiction - complete with heist movie score. It was remarkable and ludicrous and - whether because of Engle’s bright, playful direction, the universal fixation with scammers, or the romantic high-stakes exclusivity of the art world, it was a thrill. Engle attempted to hold him to account without ever getting worthy or moralising, and still seemed to find humour in his charms. The story was outrageous, immoral and unconscionable yet totally absorbing to observe a life lived to such extremes.”
The i
“Unfolding with the gripping drama of an airport thriller novel, this feature-length documentary tells the fascinating story of a man who, through sheer chutzpah and self-belief, made himself into a millionaire – and then blew everything and went on the run.”
The Mail on Sunday
“Engle told the story with cool and faintly ironic elegance, counterpointing interviews and actualité segments with smartly-paced music and dreamy archive material. It gradually gelled into a resonant myth of self-reinvention, with a built-in penalty clause. This was a splendid yarn with a bracing underpinning of moral hazard. Maybe they could get Jean Dujardin for the big-budget movie?”
The Arts Desk

CREDITS
 

Producer/director: VANESSA ENGLE

Camera: JOHANN PERRY

producer: Billie shepherd

Film editor: joanna crickmay

Executive producer: darren kemp