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MOVIE REVIEW

Documentary is a complex tale of grand theft photo

Conchita Mendoza, with husband O. Winston Link circa 1984, was sent to prison on grand larceny charges for stealing 1,500 Link prints. Conchita Mendoza, with husband O. Winston Link circa 1984, was sent to prison on grand larceny charges for stealing 1,500 Link prints. (FIRST RUN/ICARUS FILMS)

O. Winston Link (1914-2001) had a career almost as odd as his name. A successful New York commercial photographer, he loved steam-driven locomotives. He loved them so much he spent the second half of the 1950s shooting some of the last working examples.

Link's work began to sell for a very good price in the 1980s. It was a terrific story, and the images were spectacular. A British filmmaker, Paul Yule, made a documentary about him, "O. Winston Link: Trains That Passed in the Night" (1990).

Also during the '80s, Link remarried. Conchita Mendoza, his second wife, was a shrewd, statuesque beauty, 22 years younger than her husband. She became his business manager and, eventually, victimizer, victim, or in all likelihood both. Sorting out those roles is the burden of Yule's "The Photographer, His Wife, Her Lover. "

The worst thing about this fine documentary is its title, a rather strained borrowing from Peter Greenaway. Yes, Conchita had a lover, a man named Edward Hayes , hired to restore a steam engine Link owned (the man really loved locomotives). But Hayes is a sad and peripheral figure, or so he seems onscreen, compared to his fellow title characters.

Link is seen only in archival footage, of course, and in scarcely more than glimpses. Standing in for him are his son (from his first marriage), his lawyer, his dealer, his executor, and members of the prosecutorial team that sent Conchita to prison on grand larceny charges for stealing 1,500 Link prints. (One of the prosecutors looks, sounds, and jumps around so much like Martin Scorsese you start expecting a cameo from Robert De Niro.)

It's Conchita, wearing prison garb, who dominates the film in tight close-up after tight close-up. You may or may not believe what she says, but she says it commandingly. Helen Mirren's Elizabeth II is being crowned best female performance of the year. Conchita's Conchita could give her a run for her monarchical money.

Certainly, she gave Link a run for his money. In consequence, she served almost five years in prison, only to be put behind bars again on a lesser larceny charge, when she and Hayes attempted to sell 30 Link prints on eBay .

Conchita argues forcefully, if not altogether persuasively, that she was falsely charged and Link set her up. Link, all his associates agree, had a thick ornery streak and by the end of their marriage felt nothing but rage toward her. This was a man who preferred to shoot his locomotives at night, using an array of flashes he'd devised for that purpose, because he couldn't control daylight. It's easy to imagine someone who resented being unable to manipulate the sun trying to control the fate of an ex-wife. Then again, it's easy to imagine that ex-wife, at least as she comes across here, being capable of pretty much anything.

Mark Feeney can be reached at mfeeney@globe.com.

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