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VOD Review: The Painter and the Thief

May 22, 2020

By John Corrado

★★★½ (out of 4)

The Painter and the Thief, director Benjamin Ree’s excellent documentary about friendship and the healing power of art, documents a coming together of two people that is so remarkable and interesting that if it had been fiction, it likely would have been accused of being contrived.

The painter of the title is Barbora Kysilkova, an artist in Norway, and the thief is Karl Bertil-Nordland, a drug addict and gang member who stole two of her paintings from the gallery where they were being displayed. Karl would go to jail for the crime, but when he was in court, Barbora approached him and asked if she could paint him. He agreed, and from this act of humanity, an unlikely friendship between them was born.

Ree’s documentary follows them as this friendship develops and morphs into something deeper, as she becomes a caretaker to him and he allows himself to become her muse and the subject of several beautifully painted portraits. A moment when Karl spontaneously starts crying upon seeing how Barbora has captured his essence on the canvass is one of the most touching scenes in the film.

Over the course of The Painter and the Thief, which was shot over several years, layers are pulled back from the subjects to reveal how Barbora uses her often darkly beautiful art to deal with and process the abuse that she has escaped from in her past. We discover that Karl has past trauma of his own, which is what sent him down this path of crime and drug addiction that inexplicably would cause their paths to cross when he happened to be involved in the theft of her paintings.

It’s an event that Karl claims to have little recollection of due to his intoxicated state at the time, but Barbora questions him about the theft, including the location of the paintings which hold great personal significance for her, hoping to find a way to get them back. It’s a testament to the power of the friendship that forms between them that the mystery of whether or not the artist will be reunited with her paintings doesn’t entirely take over The Painter and the Thief.

It’s instead a moving look at how two people from different backgrounds through two radically different acts – the act of painting and the act of theft – which served as the catalyst for their coming together, are able to find a shared humanity, helping and healing each other in surprising ways.

The Painter and the Thief is being released today on a variety of digital and VOD platforms.

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