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‘Eva’ Director Kike Maíllo Talks Buzzy Art Fraud Documentary ‘El Falsificador’

El Falsificador
Courtesy of Filmin

With a knack for forming tight bonds with rightfully-elusive subjects, Spanish filmmaker Kike Maíllo, who shot to fame with sci-fi debut “Eva,” takes an engrossing and sympathetic look into haute-crime as it pertains to one of the world’s preeminent art forgers, Oswald Aulestia Bach.

In “El Falsificador,” Maíllo hones in on the deviance, excess, and deterioration of a con, deconstructing a cult of personality along the way by following Aulestia Bach, a gifted artist in his own right, and two accomplices, Elio Bonfiglioli and Michael Zabrin, as they recount forging and distributing dupes of Picasso, Joan Miró, and Salvador Dali while raking in millions.

Throughout the film, family members, reporters and law enforcement officials appear near-jovial while recounting the case and how much the international syndicate accomplished before the FBI caught wind of the scheme close to a decade later.

Presented by Filmin and produced by Playtime Movies, Maíllo and Toni Carrizosa’s Sábado Películas (“42 Segundos”) and The Mediapro Studio-acquired El Terrat (“Mira lo que has hecho”), the project marks Filmin’s first original documentary production. Following its world premiere at theAtlàntida Mallorca Film Fest, whose on-site event it closes, “El Falsificador” will air on the network and in theaters this fall as a feature-length film, continuing as a three-episode miniseries in 2023.

Ahead of the world premiere, Maíllo spoke with Variety about Oswald’s vivid personality, the nature of documentary filmmaking, and the oft-unjust U.S. legal system.

How did you gain such intimate access to Oswald and his inner circle?

We immediately connected with Oswald and knew we had a commitment on his part to go all the way, that he was going to tell us everything we asked him. That surely has to do with the relationship we had with him. In Michael’s case, he doesn’t live in our country, so we had to convince him to be in the documentary. The same with Elio. Those characters, the three most important characters in this story, have had problems with the law and still do today. Getting them to open up to you is complex, it’s complicated and it’s a team effort. There’s always a ‘no,’ then 25 calls and 30 minutes later it starts to be a, ‘could be.’

In your opinion, what is the most fascinating aspect of Oswald’s story?

The most exciting thing is his character. It’s like someone so crazy, seductive and grotesque. Excessive and intelligent. All that in one person. Also, his lust for life, all of that desire to eat it all up. Even now, with his 80 years. He’s taken it all. He’s slept with everything. He has lived it all. To this day, I still don’t know how many kids he has. He’s been married four times. His personality is so overwhelming. The truth is, when we found him and started to talk, that’s what made us realize that the best way to tell this story was through documentary, not fiction.

You touch on the U.S. carceral system through a bleak set of scenes. Was that an important part of the process, or did it present itself spontaneously?

We didn’t start to consider that system until Oswald went to prison. The first thing that shocked us was that the extradited prisoners, the people who are being tried, are like deaf-mutes, they’re treated in the same way, they can’t communicate, they don’t understand the language, so they need an interpreter.

The prison we dealt with had no windows at all, zero hours of sunlight a day, that’s deeply shocking. Oswald was in a cell for four months in complete isolation. It’s not good. From that moment, it became one of the most important things, to glimpse inside the system. Since it was shocking for us, we took advantage of that moment and talked a little about the experience of other inmates, the interpreter, the lawyers and Elio. In his case, he found prison so hard he tried to take his own life on several occasions.

There’s something a bit unconscionable between the type of crime and the type of punishment.

When you approached this film, did you have the goal in mind to guide its narrative? 

When I approached this documentary, my idea was to see how someone lives outside the law, the mechanics of it, when times are good and they’re earning a lot of money, and when they’re suddenly involved in conflict.

I see it like surfing, choosing the good waves, deciding which to ride, because reality’s very complex.

Our purpose was to focus on the humanity of these characters, of how they’ve lived, how they’ve lost. In the end we’re dealing with three characters who live out the consequences of ‘outside the law’ in different ways. Two of them have very complicated lives, especially psychologically speaking. In the case of Oswald, he’s managed, by his nature, to turn it around.

What do you find the most alluring aspect of filming a documentary? 

The lack of control. I like improvisation. I like not knowing where I’m going. I think the most beautiful thing about documentaries is that you go there to shoot and you don’t know what you’re going to get on the day you’re shooting.

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