Orson Welles’ description of F For Fake as a ‘new kind of film’ initially seems extremely pompous, that is, until you finish watching it and you realise that he’s completely right. Welles liberally appropriates re-edited footage shot by Francois Reichenbach, constantly jumps in and out of narration and even begins the film by telling his audience that it is a film about trickery and lies, but then promises to only use the ‘available facts’. Whilst he is still telling a story, like all filmmakers, the way he does it leaves the audience questioning the validity of the story.
The loose plot of the film focuses on the life of art forger Elmyr De Hory, who claimed to have forged and sold over a thousand Matisse, Picasso, Renoir and Modigliani paintings to reputable art galleries around the world. Welles shows the fallibility of so-called art experts, who have all been fooled by Elmyr’s forgeries, and uses this as a platform to express the idea that the distinction between a lie and the truth is not definite. This is emulated in the style of the film as Welles often interrupts scenes to comment on them, or show them from a different angle and so the audience is never fully immersed in the film. We see the lights, the cameraman and the extras, until there doesn’t seem to be a barrier between what is real and what is the film, and therefore fake. Welles also laments lawyers have put constraints on the film and forced him to edit parts out. Whilst this is very intriguing, for a viewer who is used to films which, at the very least, present themselves as films, it becomes hard to fully engage with ‘F For Fake’. Welles is constantly luring his audience in to what he prostrates as the truth, only to show them how he has used sleight of hand to trick them, which is initially fascinating, but does become somewhat tiring.
However, the best part of the film is undoubtedly the editing. Whilst for some films praising the editing seems as though you’re clutching at straws to find something good about it, in F For Fake it stands out, showing why this film is often hailed as being one of Welles greatest films, after Citizen Kane, of course. Shots rapidly intercut each other, and moments of great tension are peppered with shots of storms in a way that is bizarrely entertaining as whilst you are aware that Welles is the showman, ringmaster and consummate magician, he also makes us question whether or not he himself is a fraud.
F For Fake is not as epic, funny, or dramatic as some of the big summer blockbusters out now. However, it is just as enjoyable as said films, as whilst it does not fulfil any escapist fantasies, for 85 minutes Welles intelligently and intriguingly explores the limits and limitations of cinema, taking risks and probing his audience in a way that most modern filmmakers are too afraid to do now.