With a plot plucked straight of an Ocean’s 11 movie, the central hook of Benjamin Ree's documentary soon takes a backseat to the emotional bond between a painter and the man who stole her work.
The year's most moving documentary.
When a film’s inciting incident is an art heist, certain expectations are established for the viewer. The brilliance of Norwegian filmmaker Benjamin Ree’s documentary The Painter And The Thief’s is not just how it’s able to subvert those expectations, but blow them up entirely. Artist Barbora Kysilkova becomes fascinated when two men steal her artwork from a gallery in a daring crime. However, when the duo are arrested the quest to track down her paintings and understand the technical specifics of how they managed to pull it off are quickly discarded when she meets one of the thieves, Karl Bertil-Nordland, at his trial. Agreeing to pose as a model for one of her portraits in penance, the darker themes in Kysilkova’s work start to bleed into a natural and genuine friendship between herself and Bertil-Nordland.
The Painter And The Thief feels more like an emotional drama as Ree follows the lives of the two very different, yet very similar figures as their worlds become interwoven over the course of a few years. Initially our view of the troubled Bertil-Nordland is through Kysilkova’s lens, but as he reminds us midway through the film: “She sees me very well, but she forgets I can see her too.” The perspective is constantly shifting, the documentary moving backwards and forwards through time as it shows the audience the same singular events through dual viewpoints. As a technique, it adds context and insight we wouldn’t otherwise get as Ree shows rather than tells us about the power of being seen, really seen, by others.
The central premise makes the film sound more like The Thomas Crown Affair than the intimate character study it actually is. Yet just like a narrative feature, the characters live on in the minds of the audience rent free long after the credits have rolled. Winning the Sundance Special Jury Award For Creative Storytelling following its debut, The Painter And The Thief asks us to be as vulnerable as the two characters at the core of the story. The fact that we’re more than willing to be by the end is testament to the intricacy and skill of Ree’s filmmaking.
– Maria Lewis, Assistant Curator, Film
READ: The Painter and the Thief: behind the year's most moving documentary
Adrian Horton, The Guardian, May 2020
READ: Why ‘The Painter and the Thief’ Is Neon’s New Oscar Doc Contender
Anne Thompson, Indiewire, May 2020
6 & 8 Mar 2021
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Children under the age of 15 must be accompanied by a parent or legal guardian