Art theft is a big deal. I always thought of it as something that used to happen when security systems were not so advanced, but that is just not so. Art theft is 4th or 5th biggest of international type crimes with only drugs and weapons coming in ahead of it. As such many large pieces have been stolen. One such case is the focal point of this documentary by Cristobal Valenzuela. It is the strange tale of a Rodin statue which was stolen for just a few hours from a museum in Chile.
May 2005 the exhibit Rodin in Chile happened. This was a big deal as it was the first time the sculptor’s work came to the country. While doing his rounds early in the morning one of the security guards noticed a sculpture was missing. At first he thought it had been removed for a legitimate reason only to realize it had been stolen. The investigation began.
First it was believed that this must have been the doing of an international art theft ring. Then they moved onto the theory that an artist could have been behind it. That was because the night previous to the theft there was the opening of Guillermo Frommer’s exhibit. Media reported that Frommer himself was a suspect. Then it was reported that the sculpture which was missing was Rodin’s The Torso of Adele. It was a sculpture that demonstrated Rodin’s love of the female form and women in general.
Then the truth came out. A young male university student came in and said he found the sculpture in Forest Park, which was very close to the museum. Right off the bat the authorities believed he was the thief. His name was Louis Emilio Onfray Fabres, an art student who had attended the Frommer opening. The story came out that he had gone downstairs to the bathroom and came across The Torso of Adele. He picked it up and put it in his bag. Wasn’t even really sure what he had. Emilio then met up with a fellow student outside the museum. They bought some alcohol and had some drinks. He showed his friend the bronze statue.
Many different versions of the story came out. Emilio only granted one interview to a single newspaper. The 20-year-old was arrested and his court case began. During the case his defense was that he was trying to show the vulnerability of the country’s art museums. He did not do it for monetary gain. Involved the concept of missing something because it is gone.
An agreed upon sentence was arrived at. Emilio would work for one year in the penetentiary’s library. The Rodin exhibit continued…with increased security. Though The Torse of Adele was never put back in. The empty pedestal remained. It was the best attended art exhibit in Chile.
The surprisingingly interesting and philosophical documentary is constructed largely through interviews with those involved like the Minister of Education, museum employees, art experts, and those who were involved in the investigation of the theft. Most important and interesting is that Emilio himself is interviewed. You truly get his version of what happened in his words. He obviously feels like his side of the story was never told. Plus Valenzuela has used video and photographs to construct a picture of who Emilio was.
Using the theft of the sculpture as a jumping off point, the film also engages in a debate about art itself. Its nature and value to society. It is in these moments where the film is at its best.