Artist, swindler, hustler, forger, adventurer, scammer, dreamer. These are just some of the definitions that slip like a ring onto the finger of Oswald Aulestia (Barcelona, 1946), fascinating and multifaceted protagonist of Kike Maíllo’s documentary Oswald. El Falsificador (Oswald. The Forger), recently released by Filmin in theaters as well as online. Maíllo (Barcelona, 1975) reveals some of the secrets behind the filming of the documentary that charts the adventures of this Catalan painter who, among other feats, perfectly imitated the style of Miró and Tàpies, and then others sold his forged copies around the world. As they say, reality often trumps fiction. And this Filmin Original, co-produced by Playtime Movies and Sábado Películas in association with El Terrat (THE MEDIAPRO STUDIO), Televisió de Catalunya, ICEC and ICAA, is fresh and irrefutable proof of this.

How did you get involved with the story of Oswald Aulestia?

About four years ago, I was looking for material to make a fictional film about scammers and forgers. It’s a subject I’ve always been intrigued with because there’s something about these crimes that draws me in. Then, I came across an article about quite an elderly man who was this big shot forger of art works and who’s from my hometown of Barcelona. So, we got in touch with him on social media and, while we were waiting for him to reply, we began contacting police and several people from his closest circle. When we finally did meet Oswald Aulestia and got to know him, we came to the conclusion that a documentary would be a far more interesting project to make. We were fascinated by his personality, so eccentric, so crazy. So, we started pulling at the string… and that’s how it all began.

And you start shooting in Barcelona, Italy and the United States, but how long did that take? I mean, how many hours of filming?

There was about 100 hours of filming, and it took three years of our lives to do. There was an initial script, but luckily, other unexpected storylines and characters started showing up. The final tale was put together during editing, obviously.

Given it was a documentary you must have had a pretty big budget, right? Was it difficult to get the project off the ground?

Because we had a travelling companion as interesting as El Terrat from very early ongave the project great impetus, added to the fact that the character is from here, that this criminal is Catalan, made it much easier to make the film.

Do you think there’s a link between Oswald Aulestia and some of the other themes and characters from your filmography? Without going any further, next to him, the likes of Mario Casas, Luis Tosar and the protagonists of Toro (2016), look like  apprentice criminals, right?

(Laughs), yes, and there is also the nexus of the Mediterranean. The protagonists of Toro and Oswald are characters who try to take a bite out of life, who want to question the hand they’ve been dealt in life and Oswald questions the pattern that has been imposed on him. Also, Oswald’s a misfit with a major talent, which is a common feature in other films of mine, as was the case with the character of Alex in Eva (2011) and with the architect in The Perfect Enemy (2020).

Throughout the documentary, participants are constantly describing Oswald Aulestia, often in the most varied and even contrasting way. Towards the end, there’s even one person, who we won’t reveal to avoid any spoilers, that refers to  Oswald as “a good person”. How would you describe him, and I know that’s not an easy question to answer.

I think he has a very special sensibility and is very intelligent. But a good person? No, he’s not what I would call a “good person.”

Maybe the person who said that wasn’t armed with all the facts about Oswald…

No doubt. I think he’s an entertaining and funny guy, someone you’d like to be around  because he flips life on its head with humor and because he has so much experience.

Does he feel remorse? Or is the concept of “regret” far too conventional, religious, and outdated for him?

He does feel remorse, but it’s more to do with the relationship he had with his mother. His father, who was also a seriously shady character, taught him a certain oriental mystique and Oswald doesn’t really go in for much revision of his past. He comes back  from prison a changed man because he’s experienced some degree of atonement. He feels that he had to go through there, but not so much to cleanse his sins as to find  himself. Ego and narcissism are so strong in him that I don’t think there is any real regret. No, I believe that he thinks he didn’t anything wrong.

Oswald defines himself as a “pirate”, a pirate who even makes the leap to the big ship of Hollywood stars. Pirate… isn’t that a bit of a frivolous and romantic way to see yourself?

Careful, when you say romantic that’s because cinema has romanticized pirates, when in reality, pirates were nasty sons of bitches who killed people to rob them. Oswald didn’t do that! Fortunately, he didn’t commit violent crimes because if he had, I wouldn’t have made a documentary about him. From an egotistical perspective, he sees himself as someone who’s sticking it to the Man, he laughs at the System, he mocks it. But afterwards, he doesn’t give to the poor, even though there is element of Robin Hood to Oswald and it’s how he robs the rich by hijacking them along the highway. People scammed by Oswald and his people; don’t they know they’re buying a Picasso for ten times less than its value? When you buy a lithograph of Miró on eBay for 400 euros… doesn’t that set off a few alarm bells in your head? Some scams are based on the greed of the scammer. Although, of course, there will always be naïve people among the buyers. There’s a very funny point in the movie where two of Oswald’s sons show up saying, “No, he didn’t take advantage of people. He just painted, and it was others who took advantage.”

There are many amazing scenes in the documentary: one, in front of Barcelona’s Fundació Tàpies, in which Oswald demonstrates his modus operandi. Moments like this one are just jaw dropping.

And the segment ends with the two of us going into the Fundació Tàpies store! Oswald said, “I’m going to paint a Tàpies.” So, I ask him, “What do you need?” And he says only  a piece of cardboard.

By the way, have the Fundació Tàpies or the Fundació Miró expressed their opinion on the film?

One of the themes of the film is the art market, a market that is currently kind of  collapsing, undergoing a crisis, because we have the Internet, and because you can’t fence in the countryside if you like and distinguish genuine works from the fakes. They didn’t want anything to do with the documentary, or to participate in it. The Chillida Foundation however, did, and they will even feature in the three-part series version  we’re currently preparing for TV3. We managed to get the police to appear, several members of the gang and the family, and the only thing we didn’t manage was to get  these two foundations to feature.

‘Oswald. El Falsificador’.

At the beginning, the documentary features several films about scammers and counterfeiters, including  the Argentinian film Nine Queens (Fabián Bielinsky, 2000) and the mythical F For Fake (1973), by Orson Welles. Also, halfway through we see some footage from The Passenger (1975), by Michelangelo Antonioni. Why is that? Is there a two-fold reason for it? Was it because this is also a story of imposters and deception in the character played by Jack Nicholson, and because it features Barcelona in the 70’s, the same Barcelona Oswald experienced with such intensity by day and by night?

I thought it was great fun to, suddenly, have Jack Nicholson pass for our character. On top of all that, it features Gaudí’s work, so all in all, it’s a nod to movie buffs everywhere.

Do you think that maybe it’s your fault or thanks to your documentary, that there are a lot of folk wondering whether they actually have a Miró or an Aulestia hanging on their wall at home… but are keeping schtum just to keep up appearances?

Just going back to what I was saying earlier: it’s really weird, very unusual that someone who has a fake painting on the wall at home doesn’t know it’s a fake. Personally, I believe that thanks to the film, Oswald Aulestia work itself will now sell  more. One of the reasons he agreed to be in the documentary was in the hope that he’d actually end up selling more of his work, and not because he wanted the money, but more so for the recognition. Actually, he absolutely loves painting his own works.  

And what does Oswald think of the documentary?

It thinks it makes him look old! For Oswald it was a shock, because he sees himself in all those old photos from the past featured and said: “Jesus, I’m really fucked up now!” When he saw the film at the closing of the Atlàntida Mallorca Film Fest, he was recovering from a stroke and had undergone surgery twice. The upside however is that he thinks it’s hilarious that because of the documentary, and at almost 80 years of age, he’s only giving interviews now and becoming a bit of a celebrity.

Has anyone commented anything like, “Good job Oswald never crossed my path”, as they slip their hands into their pockets?

The type of crime Oswald was into didn’t involve him slipping his hand into anyone’s pocket, nor were the middle class his target either. He was into other stuff.

Your work depicts an intense and extensive life journey. Do you think one of the conclusions those of us who haven’t been or acted like Oswald might take away is that we haven’t taken full advantage of our lives and haven’t squeezed enough out of our passage through this life? That we’re mediocre and cowardly? Conformists, unlike him?

There’s some of that here, yes. When he talks about the orgies, parties, the nights on the town, you think, “I’ll never even come near his level, no matter how hard I try. I don’t have enough time left.”

‘Oswald. El Falsificador’.

Do you not think the title, Oswald. The Forger, doesn’t quite hit the spot? I mean, he is so much more! Counterfeiter, yes, but also rogue, accomplice, hedonist, nonconformist and even intractable assailant of new experiences, for example. I would have used a string of adjectives in the title, both positive and negative, depending on how you look at them.

(Laughs), well I think it’s a great idea for our next campaign. I’m borrowing the idea and going to copy it.

You’re going to copy it from me? That’s the best way to bring this affair full circle. Thanks.

Pere Vall
Pere Vall. Journalist covering the world of cultural and entertainment in general, specialized in cinema. Pere is a regular contributor to Time Out, Ara, RNE and Catalunya Ràdio, and was editor-in-chief of the magazine Fotogramas in Barcelona for more than 20 years. A fan of Fellini, of good, regular and bad horror movies, and of humor and comedy in general. As a child, he wanted to look like Alain Delon, and has ended with a certain resemblance to Chicho Ibáñez Serrador. Not that he’s complaining though.