A candle flickers to life, illuminating a crumbling grandiose apartment overhung with paintings and populated by an elderly couple. The air is that of an old candle-lit library: dusty, and of a different time.
And just like that – within the first few minutes of his 2011 documentary, Bielutine: In the Garden of Time – Clement Cogitore has transported us into another world.
The film itself, which runs only 36 minutes, explores the lives of Ely and Nina Bielutine, the owners of the world’s largest -and most mysterious- private Renaissance art collection.
But it isn’t the illustrious works of Renoir, Da Vinci, Velasquez and the like that make up the bulk of this fascinating film, but the stories eagerly told and the knowledge willingly passed on by the old couple as they sit placidly among their art.
For, with their motley collection of stuffed animals, priceless paintings, and pets (including a talking crow, and a number of cats), Ely and Nina truly are in a world of their own – and they have much to tell about it.
While many may be disappointed that a documentary about the famed Bielutine collection focuses more on the collectors than that which has been collected, the poignant stories pouring from the Bielutines’ lips are intriguing in themselves.
The two live among art and philosophy of old, and they are constantly fluctuating between the world of the art on their walls: the Renaissance, and contemporary society. There is a tension in their words – one minute they speak of having everything, and the next, they have nothing.
One minute their dinky apartment of treasures seems a prison, and the next, it is a palace fit for a prince.
They allude to dark times past, and worse times ahead. They revel in the nostalgia of their glorious past adventures in Europe that are as entertaining as they are strange and unbelievable.
They worry about their treasures being stolen away. They laugh, and drink too much vodka.
Their little world in that apartment is one of dichotomies and confusions: neither completely in the Renaissance like their art, nor completely in the contemporary world. Their contradictory moods and anecdotes make for a beautifully ambivalent atmosphere that only draws from the shadowy backgrounds of elaborate design and famed artworks lit only by just another flickering candle.
You come for the art, but you stay for the couple immersed in it. The Bielutines, in their effort to outshine the brilliance hanging upon their walls, do an overwhelmingly good job of portraying the ambivalence and uncertainty that comes from living in two ages at once.
Watch Bielutine: In the Garden of Time at www.dafilms.com