REEL Review – The Painter And The Thief (2020)

Director: Benjamin Ree | 1h 42mins | Documentary | Languages: English, Norwegian

Czech artist Barbora Kysilkova has two of her most important paintings stolen in broad daylight. When she agrees to paint one of the thieves, they form a friendship and help each other through the problems that lie ahead for each of them.

Benjamin Ree’s newest Documentary is continuously touching film that boasts the rawness of the human condition. Two people, with different backgrounds and viewpoints guide each other on a visceral odyssey of self-preservation and redemption. But what sets The Painter and The Thief apart from other docs, is it’s uncanny ability to structure it’s film like a narrative feature.

Ree uses a non-linear style to progress his film, spending lengthy time with both Barbora and the thief Karl, as they describe each other. It’s so beautifully presented though, Barbora sees Karl for all of his very obvious flaws but it’s Karl’s narration of Barbora that’s strikingly tender. “She sees me well, but she forgets I can see her too”, Karl expresses as he breaks down the fragility of the woman who at first we perceive to be the sympathiser. But once Karl begins narrating his portion we realise that this is a movie based on platonic love and mutual respect.

It’s a film that balances romantic elements with mystery, as the lost art is forever looming over Barbora. The story of the missing paintings is told in a reserved way, a coy thread that is forever tugging at the friendship. It’s part of the reason the movie is so engaging, you find yourself in sense of thrill in the hope they will be found. But the movie is always focused on the attachment between the two people. In the end when the mystery finally begins to unravel itself, it’s much more tonally suited to the main premise the Documentary is offering.

We spend two hours unravelling and engaging in a friendship, and it’s beautiful to see the difference in identity in the two of them.

The film is full of small human moments that stand out, the discovery of the “Swan Song”, the powerful reveal of the final painting and probably the most effective, is Karl’s response to seeing his own portrait. It’s such a stunning moment that catches you off guard, a man who’s addictions and life choices have left in him in the dirt, finally seeing himself as a work of art. It’s a moment that would be overwhelming to be in the presence of, and The Painter and the Thief is chock full of similar moments that make the film feel undeniably real.

The last act takes a sharp change in pace, following the two, years after meeting as Karl is getting out of prison for the final time and Barbosa is still working on her art. There is no air of mystery really, but it’s an important switch for the film to make. Yes it’s slower, and more contemplative, but it allows us to see how their relationship has unfolded and shaped their new identities as stronger people. We spend two hours unravelling and engaging in a friendship, and it’s beautiful to see the difference in identity in the two of them.

There are some big ideas thrown around in the movie, some about the artistic connection to death and even to broken people, but at it’s core The Painter and The Thief is a raw interpretation of the human condition. One that deserves to be remembered for years to come.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

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