Combustible Celluloid
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With: Marla Olmstead, Mark Olmstead, Laura Olmstead, Michael Kimmelman, Elizabeth Cohen, Anthony Brunelli, Amir Bar-Lev
Written by: n/a
Directed by: Amir Bar-Lev
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for language
Running Time: 82
Date: 01/01/2007

My Kid Could Paint That (2007)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Sudden Abstract

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

In this exemplary new documentary from Amir Bar-Lev, a painter named Marla Olmstead becomes the toast of the New York art scene. The catch is that she's four years old. Marla's father Mark is an amateur painter himself, and one day he gave her paper and paints to keep her busy while he worked. Her finished work has a slapdash beauty, and it's easy to understand how these na�ve works enchanted jaded art patrons. But things change when a "60 Minutes" story turns into an expose of a potential fraud. Has Mark been painting Marla's work for her? Bar-Lev's reporting turns grayer and more ambiguous as attempts to answer this question prove elusive. Marla won't paint on camera, and the relationship between Mark and his wife, Marla's mother Laura becomes strained. (Does she know something?) Eventually, Marla manages to paint an entire painting on video without cutting or doctoring, but this time the final work doesn't quite resemble the other paintings. Bar-Lev himself begins to air his own doubts on camera, but he resolves his film with a masterstroke sequence: if indeed Mark is swindling art collectors, why not swindle those with a lot of money and not much sense? (A rich couple buys a painting and drives away in a giant Hummer.) At every turn Bar-Lev very gently and fairly lays out the different sides of the story, and in doing so exposes bigger hypocrisies.

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