F for Fake (1973) – Orson Welles (Darrell Ron Tuffs)

Short Plot Summary:

A documentary about fraud and fakery. F for Fake is the last major film completed by Orson Welles, who directed, co-wrote, and starred in the film.

Poster for F for Fake

F for Fake is perhaps Orson Welles’s most interesting film. The film is not quite a documentary, and not quite an essay film. It falls somewhere just in between those two. Welles describes F for Fake as “a new type of film”, and that is exactly what it is.

The film itself becomes a little confused at times. There are moments in which some audiences may feel lost in the very fast-paced nature of the film. However, the style and pace are fascinating to see. This film is unlike anything many had seen before. There are short shots that last milliseconds flashing up before the audience may even get a chance to see what is going on. As this film is all about trickery and the notion of something being “fake”, this style of filmmaking is perfectly suited. Welles is playing with audience expectations. He leads your eyes to one direction, and distracts you from something else happening in another – as in a magic trick.

Orson Welles in F for Fake

The film is mainly based on the art forger “Elmyr de Hory”. A man who had tricked art museums all around the world with his fake works of art, and was perhaps one of the greatest “fakes” of all time. He made millions with his illegal trickery. Welles appears to be sat piecing this very film together at a mixing desk; he tells us the story through narration. This often gives him a “creator” like persona. He shows us that it is he who is piecing this story together. Him that could change or distort the story at any moment he may wish. Welles could become the “forger” of the film if he wanted, and shows that he has the power to do so.

The question this film asks is “what is art?” This is a complex question even on its surface, with many dividing and contrasting opinions. Just because “Elmyr de Hory” had painted these works of art, signing them with the names of great master painters. Does that mean they were worthless as works of art, or as paintings? They were illegal, but does even that stop them from being works of art? The film constantly asks many questions, often in quick succession. However, they are all very interesting to ponder upon.

f for fake "elmyr" painting

F for Fake also shortly explores Welles’s personal history, and asks how he got to where he did. It is suggested in stories he tells of his life that he too was a great “faker”, but still created some of the finest films the world has ever seen. As he says “I started at the top and have been working my way down ever since”.

The film at times becomes strangely obsessed with its leading actress Oja Kodar. These moments are interesting, but also the least engaging parts of the film. She seems to only ever be used as the glamorous female or sex object, in a strange story that takes place after the main topic has ended. Welles creates a fake story about her and Pablo Picasso, and tells how she was able to trick him because of his obsession over her. Perhaps she was also able to trick Welles in the film, due to a similar obsession about her from him. Picasso, as Welles in F for Fake, was a creator. But during this fake story, his power as creator is reduced to desperation from his need to seek out beauty. The beauty in this case is created in Oja Kodar, as an object of his deepest desires.


On one hand, this after-story is used in an intelligent way in order to bring up the idea of forgery once more, only this time in a more human and emotional way. This part of the film suddenly becomes very slow and overly structured, after such a quick, energy filled main segment. It is somewhat disappointing to see the film end this way, but perhaps it is necessary that it does. The audience is left with huge questions and interesting points to think about. Welles creates a film about trickery with one hand, while tricking you to listen more closely with the other. The film is an unmistakably unique experience.

Darrell Ron Tuffs


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3 Replies to “F for Fake (1973) – Orson Welles (Darrell Ron Tuffs)”

  1. It is one of the more unique movies–I think of it as an essay film, myself. The story of its making is worth telling in a documentary all its own.

  2. F for Fake is one of Welles’s best!
    Even though Welles suggests right from the beginning and at various times in the movie that he is also ‘faking’, I was lost in his filmmaking so much so that it was a surprise to see the story he told was fiction.
    In that sense, he also asks and finds some answers to the question ‘what is filmmaking?’ as well.

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