LFF 2020: The Painter And The Thief – Review

Release Date – 30th October 2020, Cert – 15, Run-time – 1 hour 47 minutes, Director – Benjamin Ree

A painter forms a friendship with one of the thieves who stole one of her best paintings from an art exhibition

Can you truly pinpoint the moment when a friendship begins? A genuine closely-bonded friendship. It might be difficult, and often the answer is highly subjective, but in the case of The Painter And The Thief there’s one particular stand out moment. As artist Barbora Kysilkova reveals a large life-like portrait of Karl Bertil-Nordland, one of the men who stole one of two of her paintings from an art exhibition, to himself the subject breaks down in tears. It looks as if thousands of thoughts are racing through his mind yet he’s left completely speechless, unable to speak anyway due to his relentless tears. His face is full of guilt, regret and a want for forgiveness. He staggers closer to the piece of art as it covers almost an entire wall, looking as if he’s about to collapse in front of it. From what he’s told about his life up until this point it appears as if nobody has ever shown him such an action and kindness. It’s at this point that I believe the friendship between the titular painter and thief begins.

The pair in a number of respects are totally different, yet both have their scars leading to a bond being formed between the two. Karl speaks of his tattoos saying “the red rose symbolises lost childhood”, going on to say that he has seven of these inked onto his skin. His life has been filled with trauma and falling in on what some would claim is the wrong side of the tracks. Meanwhile Barbora although having recovered from an abusive relationship with an ex still displays the scars, it is said of her that “the wounds run deep but it gives her this drive” and gradually the same goes for Karl, who inspires much of Barbora’s artwork for a long period of time. Often while able to show a bond between two figures documentaries aren’t always able to capture a true spirit of genuine friendship, yet during the early stages of the film as the relationship between the two is explored such a feeling is strong, seemingly being easily conveyed. Bringing the viewer in and easily connecting with the two central figures.

And yet, despite being happy in each other’s company the two still have their own personal struggles. Karl is a drug addict – even going as far as almost buying heroin on the way to rehab, which he struggles to walk through the door of without anything to help calm him down. This is part of why he’s so taken aback by his artist friend’s displays of kindness, “how can you understand a junkie that’s been awake for four days?” he asks as she tries to talk to him about his behaviours. Meanwhile, she has her own personal issues, unable to sell her art to more ‘commercial’ galleries there is little income, leading her to be three months behind on her rent. Feeling guilty for relying on her partner, who begins to worry that Barbora is going down a self-destructive route with her relationship with Karl, to help her out.

As we discover more of these personal troubles and worries for the pair the film begins to move away from their friendship, still showing it being hinted, but focusing more on the separate stories and lives. While initially there is some interest the connection with the film begins to loosen as the tone changes. There are still some engaging points that bring the viewer back in and there is still some form of connection with those at the heart of it, however because the strong bond that was once the centre of the piece isn’t as prominent and there almost seem to be two new and different stories being told, unrelated to that of the missing pieces of artwork – Karl claims that he can’t remember what he did with the painting that he stole in broad daylight and there is no trace of his accomplice who took the other. When this point is discussed and developed you almost wish that the film could have spent time looking into this more than Karl’s life in prison or Barbora’s time in couples therapy with her partner for as long as it does. It’s at these points that the feeling of disconnection and a change in tone come in. However, when looking at that close bond of strong friendship between two initially seemingly very different people the film definitely gets it right. And what it shows and the impact that it has is something that not a lot of documentaries can do.

While it might dwell for a bit too long on the individual separate lives, instead of perspectives, of the titular pairing The Painter And The Thief does have a number of welcoming moments within its theme of friendship. Effectively showing it on screen and bringing the audience in through it. The film might not be perfect but neither are the people at the centre of it, and that’s what makes their bond so strong and investing.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

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