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Film Review: The Painter and the Thief

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

Barbora Kysilkova working on a painting of Karl-Bertil Nordland

The Painter and the Thief

Directed by Benjamin Ree

Release date, December 26

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

“The Painter and the Thief “is an intriguing documentary partly because the film has evolved organically over several years with a vague initial objective which was reshaped by unforeseen events and unintended outcomes.

In the film we follow painter Barbora Kysilkova, a Czech painter, living in Oslo and petty criminal Karl-Bertil Nordland in a disconcerting but uplifting relationship.

Nordland and an accomplice steal two of Kysilkova’s paintings from a gallery in Oslo. He is apprehended and put on trial but as he was drunk or high at the time of the theft he is unable to say where the paintings are . Kysilkova who has been confused and annoyed by the affair approaches  Nordland and asks if he would sit for a portrait and he agrees. Over several weeks she draws and paints him and his girlfriend and they become close.

At one point Norland has a serious car accident and is hospitalised and subsequently charged with driving and drug offenses. While in hospital and jail Kysilkova continues to visit him.

She eventually discovers one of her paintings in a basement storage area and in the final minutes of the film we see Kysilkova and Norland installing a new exhibition which includes the stolen painting and several portraits she has made of Nordland over the past years.

The two exhibitions bookend the story with the opening of the film showing glimpses of her first exhibition taken on a cellphone at the opening.

The film focusses on the transformation and the redemption of  Norland from small time criminal and addict to a man engaged in study to create a new purposeful life.

A major theme of the film is the creative process and  power of art in bringing about personal transformation. Early on in the film after Kysilkova has done a series of drawings of Nordland she shows him a finished portrait. He is astounded and transfixed by the artwork, partly because he recognises not just his physical representation but also something about himself. He is also in awe of Kysilkova’s skill as an artist.

Over the period of her relationship with  the thief Kysilkova also acts as a detective / psychologist, probing Nordland about his motivation behind the theft and the paintings whereabouts, but she also attempts to understand  him and in doing so Nordland begins to realise much about himself.

Whether it is the encounters with the art process and his portraits or his discussions with Kysilkova which lead to his salvation is never fully acknowledged but clearly their complex relationship has made a difference.

Director Benjamin Ree has shown a dogged determination to create a film which he would initially have had no idea how it would unfold with so many of the events, images eventually coming together.

By johndpart

Arts reviewer for thirty years with the National Business Review

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