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Television

     

THE DEALER

A serial for Russian television
by

Jeremy Noble


Introduction

2006

The art business is a dirty business run by beautiful people (especially in Russia…)

Selling a Picasso at a crowded auction in London for a hundred million dollars might look like a glamorous thing to do, but behind the scenes, and behind the canvas, there is a lot of intrigue and double-dealing. Who really painted that picture? Is it real? Is it a fake? How did it get here? Has it been stolen or looted? How did the buyer make so much money?

Russian art is very fashionable at the moment, with new rich Russians buying pictures and Faberge with as much enthusiasm as the Moscow merchants and grand dukes before the Revolution. But in Russia, although the art and antiques business is becoming a more and more glamorous thing to do, it is a very dangerous business. It is a world of shady middlemen, of forgers and criminals.

In each episode of The Dealer the ‘hero’ Dimitrii (Dima) Vorontsov somehow always finds himself handling a work of art or a picture that comes with a lot of danger attached: In Episode 1 he plays at being ‘Robin Hood’, robbing a rich man of a Faberge frame to help a poor babushka; in Episode 2 he wants to buy a collection of non-conformist Soviet art worth millions but an American dealer will stop at nothing to get it instead; in Episode 3, when a picture by Rubens is stolen from a provincial Russian museum, Dima tries to make money out of both the museum and the thief; in Episode 4 he dreams up a pyramid scheme to make money out of Russian contemporary art, and then finds himself in the middle of a war between the CIA and the Russian mafia….

Characters who appear in every episode

Dmitrii (Dima) Vorontsov: He’s “a cool guy,” “a fraud,” “a romeo,” “a slippery customer;” these are just some of the contradictory things that people say about him.

Dima deals in art and antiques, this is not quite the same as an antiques dealer; Dima is a wheeler-dealer, not a man who just looks elegant and stands in a shop all day. He likes to think of himself as something of a modern-day Eugene Onegin, but then he also thinks of himself as being like many other characters in Russian literature; and actors also (but only French actors).

Dima is in in his early thirties. He speaks English and French equally well, having studied in both London and Paris; he always jokes that he bought his degree from the Faculty of Philology of St Petersburg University (which might or might not be true). He likes to cook – for him cooking is an important part of living the ‘good life’ – and we often see him buying food and wine in the markets and specialty shops in St Petersburg; he is also often to be found in the kitchen. Of course, he likes good restaurants and this only adds to the glamour of his lifestyle.

There is much about Dima, however, that seems to be not quite on the level. His friends call him a “poseur,” because he dresses like an English gentleman, but this is only because, as he says to all of his friends, “It helps to sell the stuff if you look as if you were brought up with it.” He likes to talk about his “blue blood,” and he tells different stories to all of his clients about his aristocratic forebears (later in the series, when his own past is the subject, we will find out if he really does have blue blood).

He lives in a top-floor penthouse apartment with a view overlooking the Hermitage. He used to work there, and had a good career ahead of him; Dima will tell everybody that he left because the pay was so bad, but we learn also that he was involved in some sort of scandal about a missing work of art, which never made the newspapers. He doesn’t have a shop, but works out of his apartment.

He drives a red Ferrari cabriolet, called Kandinsky (because he bought it with the money he made from the sale of a Kandinsky painting). He smokes Gauloises cigarettes, not because he likes them very much, but because he imagines himself as an art film hero - Alain Delon, Jean Paul Belmondo, Marcello Mastroianni - this is why he also favours retro sunglasses (even when it’s snowing). He keeps his cigarettes in a silver case (“Faberge, that blacksmith,” he always jokes). He doesn’t wear a wristwatch, but sports a nineteenth-century Breguet fob watch (“If it was good enough for Zhenya Onegin, it’s ok for me”). Dima doesn’t like to be taken seriously, and he isn’t, but of course he is much more than just a butterfly, for just like Onegin and Belmondo, being cool is just a way of being able to do what you like without anybody noticing.

He is a very astute, very knowledgeable dealer, who loves antiques, but would never ever admit to it (“It’s all just junk,” he will say of the stuff he sells). In a way he is something of a detective, because he knows that the more he can find out about a piece of art, the more it will sell for; this is why he is often seen in libraries, museums, visiting his old colleagues in the Hermitage. He uses all of the most up-to-date technology but keeps his computer well out of sight of clients (“I’m not selling software”). He is an ‘international’ Russian, who knows what’s happening in the major auction houses around the world, and what’s in fashion – Soviet art, Faberge, nonconformists - at any given moment. At the same time he knows his way around the Russian bureaucracy; he won’t scruple to pay a bribe for an export licence; this means that sometimes what he is doing is definitely illegal, and this is what gets him into hot water.

Is he a good guy or a bad guy? Is he a crook or on the level? His actions are contradictory, one moment he is helping to recover a stolen work of art, the next he is selling something he suspects, knows even, is stolen or looted. He has very close contacts with the Art Theft Department of the city (known as Department 12), and also with the Art Loss Register in Manhattan, but his relationship with both these organisations is uncertain; is he helping them, or using them?

Dima has an an ex-wife called Masha, a lawyer. Masha is a little bit older than Dima, beautiful, and, of course, she still loves Dima, but she just can’t live with him: “A butterfly like you needs flowers to live with, not a lawyer.”

Dima and Masha have a young son of 12 called Sanya who worships his father. Sanya is clever, he tells his parents exactly what he thinks about them, and he is always hoping that they will get back together.

Dima has a girlfriend called Katia who runs her own travel agency business. She is the epitome of a successful career woman, who thinks of herself as an equal to all men. She loves Dima, but she is often upset by his questionable morality when he is doing business.

Andrei is the ‘other hero’ of this series. He is ten years younger than Dima (ie about 24), good-looking, muscular and sexual in a raw way. He left school at 18, joined the army and became a Special Forces soldier. He is not stupid, but you cannot describe him as cultured – he can’t tell the difference between Rubens and Rembrandt, neither does know who is Alain Delon (and he doesn’t care that he doesn’t know). You might describe him as uncomplicated, but this is too simple; he is amoral. When we first meet him in Episode 1 he is using his military experience to try to help his grandmother, but when we next meet him in Episode 2 he is not much better than a paid escort. He becomes Dima’s assistant, partner even, because Dima is always getting himself into dangerous situations where he needs Andrei’s help to save him.

Tamara Petrovna is Dima’s neighbour, and his unofficial housekeeper. She is a confirmed gossip. Her husband Grisha is a policeman, and his connections are often useful to Dima.

Artem is a fence, a small-time petty thief, who knows what’s going on beneath the glossy surface of the Russian antiques business. When Dima doesn’t want to get his own hands dirty, but needs to find out something, he goes straight to Artem.

Igor Lvovich is a detective in the Arts Theft Department (Department 12) of the St Petersburg Police. He is a good detective, but that doesn’t stop him from taking backhanders if he is offered them. He knows Dima Vorontsov very well - they work in the same business - but there are often problems between them, whenever Igor Lvovich is trying to solve a crime, and Dima is trying to make money out of it.


If you would like to read The Dealer, please write to me at jeremy@jeremynoble.com



© 2005 Jeremy Noble