A young man’s relationship with his family is compromised when he investigates a dark secret from their past, involving the discovery of thousands of his dead grandfather’s missing paintings.
Since he was a child Roman Lapshin has been haunted by a secret his late grandfather revealed to him when he was only 12 years old. A personal disclosure regarding the mysterious and troubling origins of thousands of pieces of missing artwork his grandfather had painted over his lifetime. As long as he can remember, Roman has been obsessed with the burden of his grandfather’s revelation, convinced that he alone must investigate and expose the murky fate of his grandfather’s artwork to redeem his grandfather’s name and artistic legacy. But finding the paintings will mean going against the wishes of his entire family - who have been guarding this secret all along. It also means confronting the notorious and powerful man at the centre of this secret whom Roman believes exploited his grandfather when he was a desperate, recent immigrant to a new country. Despite the daunting mission for redemption amidst the pressure from his family to leave the past behind, Roman is determined to relentlessly pursue his undertaking regardless of the collateral damage that his actions could cause. But as his journey unfolds he begins to realize that his quest for justice, and his obsession for vengeance against a man he has believed to be the boogeyman since he was a child, may not lead to the salvation he had hoped to achieve. “Portrayal” follows Roman across 3 continents and 5 countries as he tries to put together the pieces of a missing puzzle and come to terms with a family legacy and his own personal journey of restoration, growth and healing.
By Billie Mintz
"Potrayal" is a documentary that investigates claims against Oz Almog, an internationally recognized painter from Israel, who allegedly created a false narrative around his career stating authorship of paintings that may have not been his own. He has built his reputation around this work and has evaded any inquiry on these claims except for one unsuspected event: this documentary. What was initially positioned as a biography on Oz – is also inevitably an exposé on the fraud he committed. His accuser, Roman Lapshin, the grandson of the possible real painter Vladimir Dvorkin, is spearheading his own investigation while hiding the full truth from his family about his wish to confront Oz that eclipses his initial altruistic intention where he states to his family that he is only participating in this film to exhibit his grandfather’s work. While this documentary explores the different sides of each character’s truth, version of history and the lengths they go to protect these half-truths, I had to conceal and manipulate certain details in order to do discovery, get the full story and enlist Oz into participating in the film. Although this is a film about family history, art and the business of exhibition it dives into the themes of personal experience, perspective and the relativity of truth.
Roman Lapshin approached me with a story of his late grandfather, Vladimir Dvorkin: a prolific painter who emigrated from Russia to Israel escaping anti-Semitism in search of a new life with more opportunity for his family. Broken and penniless, he had to start his life all over again after serving five years in prison for a crime he did not commit. He went from being a famous Russian painter to having nothing and moving to a new country to start his career and life all over again. He went to the streets to sell portraits which was very humbling for a painter of such experience, now in a country where no one knew his name or of his decorated past. Roman then told me about a man named Oz Almog who discovered Vladimir on the street and began an exploitive relationship that took advantage of the prolific, immigrant painter and over the course of 10 years he manipulated by usurping his grandfather’s paintings, claiming them to be from his own hand. It was a wild tale that sounded a little unbelievable and worthy of investigation. Roman, now an adult and believing he has to fulfill his dead grandfather’s wishes to tell the world the truth and exhibit his body of work in his own name, is preparing to confront Oz and take possession of the body of work rumored to be in the thousands. In order to get the full story I had to approach Mr. Almog and find a way for him to participate in the film. Obviously if he knew I was investigating him he would not cooperate so I had to withhold my knowledge of Dvorkin and their relationship. Although reluctant, Oz agreed to participate and although was very forthcoming, maintained the story that he was the real painter through our initial interviews in the development stage of the film.
Almog is a fascinating antagonist in a doc who starts as the protagonist but once the audience realizes that he’s living a lie and that Roman is determined to expose it, they too are immersed in the web of lies through dramatic irony. While the audience becomes fully cognizant of the fraud that took place, Oz continues to perform a lie for the crew and I. Contributing to what he believes is solely a film on his extensive catalogue and creative process, he unknowingly exposes himself as a liar. It’s equally awkward, uncomfortable for me as an investigator that certain details needed to be manipulated in order to find out and tell the truth. Because the Information I am gathering is very precious as it may offend or humiliate Oz, I am diligent in gathering the facts. Oz is open and because he does not know that I know, he is continually giving me insight that would normally be protected. The truth would later be verified by a colleague that not only did Oz not paint the work in question, a small select circle of people surrounding Oz were aware of it the whole time. We recorded have testimony on this.
I reached out to Oz withholding that I discovered his work through Roman, and asked if I could make a film about him. Although this wasn’t the full truth, it was not a lie – I was making a film about him, I was just not giving him the full story, which was a reflection of his own version of truth. Over some coaxing he hesitantly agreed to meet me at a café before deciding to be a part of the film. I flew to Vienna and staked out the meeting place the day before and found a vantage point for the camera so we could film me approaching while Roman sat upstairs watching the whole thing unfold. From this vantage point, Roman had his very first glimpse of the monster that was created from the childhood tales he heard and were embellished his entire life. Because I also had a camera on Roman, I caught something that I did not foresee: Roman realizing that he might be wrong about Oz’s character. I soon realized that although the events of history in Roman’s story are true and need further investigating, the immorality may not be so black and white. What I thought was a story about Oz, also became a journey of Roman coming to terms with the reality of a world where Oz exists and is needed. There became a new facet of this complicated story: the realization that Oz isn’t as bad as we thought he was. Although his allegations turn out to be true, Roman learns about the decisions his grandfather needed to make, being an immigrant and having to provide for his family and their future – the future that Roman is now inhabiting.
"Portrayal" is a quixotic tale of a sheltered young man who confronts his family’s controversial mythology and ends up learning about himself. This is an outrageous tale of a young boy who was so affected by his grandfather’s mythology that he carried another man’s burden with him until he himself was consumed by it. Now, in his mid-twenties, he finally decides to track the man down and confront him while demanding justice for his late grandfather through the restoration of his paintings to their rightful owners – his family.
What we have is a story that is self-reflective film that explores truth and exploitation. Oz is withholding the full truth from the people; I am withholding the full truth from Oz; and Roman is withholding the full truth from his family about what he is doing. As the story develops, similarities between the men emerge. Both are so committed to a narrative so personal to them that they refuse to see the facts. Through the intimate documentation of exploitation, the film explores that history is not always truthful or factual and that relationships made in the name of art are always expendable.