Arguably the world's most famous painting, the Mona Lisa capture's the imagination and wonder of art lovers and the casually interested alike. Pascal Cotte would fall into the latter. As a boy, he became enamored with the painting and sought to know all of its secrets. In 2007, he would finally live his dream through the invention of his 240 million pixel multispectral camera. Cotte was given exclusive access to the painting, outside of all protective barriers, at the Louvre and his results are quite fascinating.
"Mona Lisa Revealed: Secrets of the Painting" is a brief (50 minutes) documentary that focuses both on an abridged history of the painting and Cotte's findings, specifically the confirmation that the original painting had eyebrows and eyelashes. Cotte's museum presentation runs as a companion piece to another museum exhibit on DaVinci and is highly recommended. The highlight of the Cotte exhibit is a high-resolution reproduction of the Mona Lisa. Having been to this exhibit personally, this program is a great supplement; for those who have not the program might frustrate as it mentions other findings that are discussed and shown in greater detail at the exhibit itself.
The documentary itself never talks down to the viewer; the explanations are a good balance between technical language and layman's terms. Cotte's multispectral camera is well explained and the explanations are accompanied by the photographs from the Mona Lisa shoot. AS mentioned above, Cotte focuses on the revelation that the painting originally had eyebrows and while this may seem like a boring topic, it is actually quite fascinating as the evidence he provides is from images of the painting in the IR range, a range not visible to the human eye. His findings are supported by historians who had argued the same fact for years, citing other paintings of the time and historical evidence of popular women's fashion.
The only failings of the documentary are its short running time. I'd have love to have spent another 30 minutes talking about one or two of Cotte's other findings and had a slightly more in depth look at the multispectral camera. The average viewer however, will find the program more than adequate, but only worth watching once. For art fans and fans of DaVinci or the Mona Lisa, this will most likely have higher replay value. At the end of the day, I think the program is even more appreciated if the viewer has had a chance to see the exhibit personally.
Presented in 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, the video quality is all over the place. The primary footage of Cotte and the interviews of historians are adequate, but don't do the paintings shown justice. There is evidence of digital grain and some artifacting. As is the case with many documentaries, additional footage is used and the aspect ratios vary from 1.85:1 to 1.33:1. Some of this footage is less than stellar and a few pieces show a high level of compression artifacts.
The audio is presented in an English surround track with the rear channels only getting use during background music. The main narration track suffers from semi-regular clipping for the first half of the program. It doesn't result in the loss of information, but is a minor annoyance. Cotte's dialogue sounds like he may have rerecorded his lines in the studio and is a bit distracting at first as it's not entirely in sync with the video. The other interviews all feature quality audio and no clipping problems. English, French, and Spanish subtitles are also present. I would recommend watching with English subtitles as Cotte's accent can be hard to understand at times.
The disc has one lone, five minute extra featurette entitled "The 26 Secrets of Mona Lisa." This piece lists the 25 "secrets" revealed by Cotte's findings and concludes with what is supposedly an exclusive 26th secret, revealed only on this DVD. It's definitely worth watching as some of the findings are quite amazing and only possible with Cotte's camera. The featurettes concludes with a tease of a possible second DVD, regarding the digital reproduction of the Mona Lisa as it originally looked when DaVinci painted it, including the original colors (which have faded and changed over the years). Interested parties will definitely be inspired to seek out more information after watching this short featureette.
As I stated above, the DVD really feels like a supplement to Cotte's museum exhibit, but that doesn't make it worth skipping. It's an intriguing look at the world's most famous painting and the findings of one man whose childhood dream to learn the secrets drove him to create a truly amazing tool that may reveal the secrets of other paintings (Cotte mentions he wants to use the camera to photograph all of DaVinci's art) in years to come. Fans of DaVinci and art may want to add this to their collection; everyone else should definitely give this a look, but replay value won't be as high. Rent It.