A wealthy man covets a series of six paintings.
He competes with a wealthy antagonist to acquire them--by legal and other means.
The two collectors, as it happens, also compete for the favors of a handsome young man.
The first collector explains to his young lover that the paintings, though seemingly unconnected, contain a secret meaning, a meaning which can only be discovered by re-enacting them.
The collector hires actors--including people known to the young lover--to act out the paintings for the young lover to observe.
As in Hamlet, the staging of the scenes aims to provoke a confession in the young lover of his infidelities.
Many confessions do indeed come forth, but they are minor.
The mystery of the paintings remains hidden until the collector reveals his theory that there must have been a seventh painting, now lost or destroyed, which explained the meaning of all the paintings and proved their connection.
That painting was at one point in the possession of the young lover's family. It was that family that was responsible for stealing the painting from wealthy collector's family--and sending them to the gas chambers.
In restaging the final, missing painting, the wealthy collector is, it turns out, staging his own death. The effect on the young lover is so profound that it causes his death, too, but in the process it reveals to the dying collector that, whatever his faults, the young man did indeed love the collector.
The scene has been staged for the benefit of the rival collector, who gets to find out that the young man who toyed with his affections was merely playing.
And the two deaths in turn cause the missing painting to be recaptured in the form of a crime scene photograph, which passes, as do the rest of the paintings, indeed the very house where the stagings and deaths have occurred, to the ownership of the now lonely and bereaved collector who now becomes entombed with his possessions--and his memories.
--E. R. O'Neill
(With apologies to Raoul Ruiz and Peter Greenaway).