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Review: ‘Chasing Portraits’ director pursues her great-grandfather’s art lost in Holocaust

Elizabeth Rynecki holding her great-grandfather’s self-portrait at the Jewish Historical Institute i
Elizabeth Rynecki visits the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw, in a scene from the documentary “Chasing Portraits.”
(Slawomir Grünberg)

The portraits are vibrant, the chase for them less so in “Chasing Portraits,” writer-director Elizabeth Rynecki’s documentary log of her quest for the long-lost work of her great-grandfather, Moshe, a prolific artist killed in the Holocaust.

Rynecki, whose heart, if not always her filmmaking ability, is squarely in the right place, attempts to reconcile her family’s past via a journey that takes her to Canada, Poland, Israel and elsewhere in search of Moshe’s far-flung paintings.

Her goal is not to reclaim any found pieces — more than 100 were recovered postwar by Moshe’s wife, many of which dwell stateside with the Rynecki family — but to serve as historian and witness to her great-grandfather’s output; to close the gaps in her clan’s story and heal the lingering sadness and trauma of a bygone era.

It’s a heavy lift that, to do her efforts justice, required a more dimensional, broadly contextual and, for a movie about art, visually adept depiction than first-time filmmaker Rynecki has managed. Plus, as our on-screen guide and narrator, Rynecki, although deeply committed and relatable, isn’t the most dynamic presence.

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Still, she effectively captures a raft of emotional beats, especially those involving her kindly, Holocaust-survivor dad (Moshe’s grandson), who prefers to keep his dark childhood at arm’s length. As for Moshe’s paintings of pre-World War II Polish-Jewish life, they’re a dazzling, evocative collection.

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‘Chasing Portraits’

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 17 minutes

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Playing: Starts May 17, Laemmle Music Hall, Beverly Hills

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