The Painter and the Thief is a remarkable new documentary from director, Benjamin Ree. The film, which centers on the friendship between artist Barbora Kysilkova and Karl Bertil-Nordland (one of the men who stole her paintings). The feature will be available on VOD and to stream on Hulu starting May 22nd.
Director Benjamin Ree documents the unlikely collision of two lives, seemingly on vastly different trajectories. The Painter is Barbora Kysilkova, a relatively new resident to Oslo, Norway, when two of her paintings are stolen in broad daylight. The Thief is Karl Bertil-Nordland, a man who has spent his recent years struggling with addiction and run-ins with the law. Lesser documentaries would allow these reductive titles to define the two people at the center of this film, but Ree spends three years to allow the complex humanity of both Barbora and Bertil to shine forth.
An early moment in the film, describes Barbora attending a court hearing for Bertil. In one of many unexpected turns, Barbora approaches Bertil to ask if he will sit and allow her to paint him. When asked about the impulse, Barbora muses, “…so I was already coming there with the idea that I wanted to actually approach both of the thieves and ask them to pose for me, while recreating the crime scene.”
The impulse to empathise and reach out instead of push away, leads to an ongoing discovery by both Bertil and Barbora. It’s a discovery that we, as filmgoers, get to witness. This is not to say that the film doesn’t have darkness, but that isn’t something that either Ree’s directorial gaze or Barbora’s brush turns away from.
Barbora sums up this recontextualizing of beauty from darkness in a seemingly innocuous question I asked her. I noticed, early on in the film, she was holding a black cat. Being an owner of two black cats, I am well-aware that these creatures are often misunderstood and maligned. She responded, in-part, “Samara is her name. I got her in Prague, 15 years ago… She passed away last summer in my arms… but she’s buried under her mouse-hunting-stone in our garden…and she appears in many art forms.”
She goes on to say, “Beauty transcends death. And yes, do I wish to make death eternal. Through beauty.”
The Painter and The Thief is a beautiful film.
Virtual cinemas during the opening weekend will feature Q&A’s from Kysilkova, Bertil-Nordland, and Ree. For the complete interview: