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500 years later, painter Hieronymus Bosch remains a mystery in documentary

500 years later, painter Hieronymus Bosch remains a mystery in documentary
In a scene from the documentary "Hieronymous Bosch: Touched by the Devil," art historian Matthijs Ilsink examines the painting "Saint Christopher." (Kino Lorber)

For a movie about an artist so unique and provocative, writer-director Pieter van Huystee's documentary "Hieronymus Bosch: Touched by the Devil" proves a less-than-scintillating portrait.

This slow-paced if well-shot film tracks a team of Dutch art historians as they assemble a retrospective in honor of the 500th anniversary of the death of medieval painter Hieronymus Bosch. Although the showing is being held in the artist's native city of Den Bosch, the Netherlands, his surviving 25 paintings, many of which are notably hellish, are owned by several museums around the world.

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For starters, the Dutch group must convince Madrid's Museo del Prado, which houses the bulk of Bosch's work, as well as art institutions in Washington, D.C.; Venice, Italy; Berlin and elsewhere to lend the painter's pieces to the anniversary exhibition. The team must also authenticate certain works that, they posit, may have been created by Bosch's workshop or by a Bosch follower. (Much about the artist's life is speculative.)

If the stage is set for mystery, conflict and tension, Van Huystee rarely mines it. He focuses instead on the quiet, near-forensic study of such eye-popping, heavily detailed Bosch works as "The Garden of Earthly Delights," "The Haywain Triptych" and "The Crucifixion of St. Julia."

Deeper socio-historical context and a more electric approach could have helped us better appreciate the far-flung impact of this visionary artist.

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'Hieronymus Bosch: Touched By the Devil'

In English, Dutch and Spanish with English subtitles

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 29 minutes.

Playing: Laemmle Royal Theater, West Los Angeles.

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