Review by Sean Boelman
Benjamin Ree’s new film The Painter and the Thief documents what is one of the most bizarre and intriguing true stories to grace the screen in quite a while. Thanks to its stranger-than-fiction narrative and some absolutely gorgeous visuals, this is a captivating documentary that demands to be seen.
The movie follows an artist whose valuable paintings are stolen from her as she forms an unlikely friendship with the thief who took them, allowing them both to gain new insight about the world. It sounds like something like this could never happen in real life, and yet it did, and the result is a fascinating work of nonfiction that challenges.
As one would expect, the film is about second chances and how people can redeem themselves for mistakes they have made in the past. There’s not a whole lot of subtlety in the messaging, but the conversations that the two subjects have about morality and their past bad decisions are plenty thought-provoking for the movie to be effective.
The relationship that forms between the two subjects is obviously very unorthodox, and the portion of the film that is spent exploring their friendship is pretty brilliant. When the two are allowed to share the screen, audiences’ attention will undeniably be locked on the movie as they wait to see how things will play out.
Unfortunately (due to no fault of the filmmaker), the story goes off the rails in the second half when one of the subjects experiences a life-changing accident. However, Ree could have utilized this change in a way as to reinforce his themes about rebirth, and this is largely left underdeveloped.
Visually, the film is just as beautiful as one would expect from a movie that features a painter as its main subject. The work of artist Barbora Kysilkova is featured prominently throughout the film, and Ree uses her style as a frame of reference for the very brutal and realistic way in which he shoots the documentary.
Ree doesn’t insert himself into the narrative, instead allowing Kysilkova to be the star of the movie and driving the story along. Rather than interviewing them, Ree allows Kysilkova and Karl Bertil-Nordland to have conversations of their own, capturing them in a fly-on-the-wall fashion, lending the film a very naturalistic feel.
The Painter and the Thief is a truly unique and amazing documentary. Although it may not sound like the most cinematic story on paper, it is one of the most unexpectedly compelling things to come out in a while.
The Painter and the Thief hits Hulu, VOD, and virtual cinemas on May 22.