Neon has continued their streak with surprising Documentaries with Benjamin Ree’s The Painter and the Thief. An empathetic portrait of two souls intertwined by a crime.
What begins as a crime thriller documentary evolves into more. The ways that The Painter and the Thief surprises could only be brought to life in a non-fiction film. The story of artist Barbora Kysilkova and criminal Karl Bertil-Nordland are more complex than the stereotypes of the title.
After the opening of painter Barbora Kysilkova’s gallery show in Oslo, two of her most famous painting are stolen. The two men that perpetrated the crime are quickly apprehended and are put on trial. During the trial, Barbora approaches one of the men, Karl Bertil-Nordland known as Bertil, and asks if she can draw him. He agrees and what begins over the course of years is as surprising, humane, and original that a fictional film could dare.
Director Benjamin Ree and Editor Robert Stengård craft an adroit narrative for maximum emotional impact. Though, The Painter and the Thief never feels crass or emotionally manipulative. The story smartly unfolds subjectively giving you information as Barbora and Bertil would be given it. Allowing the discovery of information as an emotional one rather than some sort of manipulative twist of events.
A crime is at the center of the film, it is never a crime film or thriller. The story, like life, does not allow the simple conventions of the genre to frame it. Barbora and Bertil’s relationship is never as simple as a friendship or romance or artist and muse. The Painter and the Thief gives this core relationship the complexity it deserves. Part of the beauty and magnetism of the story is how Ree, Stengård with the aid of Composer Uno Helmersson’s understated emotional score draws a portrait of two humans that need each other more than each realizes.
To say more would be to rob this wonderful film of its emotional power. The greatest of documentaries show us life at its most unpredictably complex. Life paints in shades of happiness, sadness, laughter, fear, and so much more. The power of the non-fiction format is in its ability to show life or a subject in those complex shades. Allowing an audience to connect with the life or subject. In a time where we strive to connect with anyone or anything, The Painter and the Thief gives us the hope that this is possible.