F for Fake is part documentary about art forgery, and part a forgery itself - but a forgery that doesn't take itself seriously, and is completely forthright about being one. Using documentary footage about art forger Elmyr de Hory, aggressively cut and edited to create a sort of disorienting hall of mirrors effect, Welles provides a glimpse into a world where fakers are enabled to forge the works of famous artists precisely by the authority of the experts who validate their forgeries as authentic, and the complicity of both art dealers and buyers in maintaining the illusion.
The story becomes even more complicated: does Elmyr's biography lose authenticity if his biographer is himself exposed as a fraud - in a case linking him to the elusive Howard Hughes, the main inspiration for Citizen Kane? What happens when a string of fake Picassos are lauded as new masterpieces? And what if the fakes are accepted into canon and for their artistic value? It is all a wondrous, playful game, where Welles, who had himself started his career by feigning to be a Hollywood celebrity in Ireland (or so he tells us), and later with the War of the Worlds radio broadcast hoax, is narrating the film with his usual memorable lines ("He gave you a false check for a false painting?", "August in France... this is when someone could take the country by telephone... if someone would answer it."), at least when he isn't implicating Picasso in the forgery of his own works, or spinning a story about the myths and facts surrounding Hughes, himself and his mistress - the co-author and co-star of this movie.
Fake personas appear among real ones, persons are switched for one another, and the truth is used as liberally as fiction in a great, understated comedy. Nothing in this movie is trustworthy, since movies aren't trustworthy. After all, that's precisely what the movie tells about itself.