The 400-Word Review: The Painter and the Thief
By Sean Collier
May 26, 2020
Early in the engaging documentary “The Painter and the Thief,” the titular small-time criminal, Karl Bertil-Nordland, unexpectedly encounters himself, rendered on canvas by artist Barbora Kysilkova. It’s a portrait Kysilkova has begun; she invites him to see it. He’s overwhelmed. He stares at it in confusion and awe for a long moment, before he begins sobbing. He can’t take his eyes away — and he can’t stop crying.
It’s a remarkable moment of humanity, raw and true, captured on film. Yet the larger story of “The Painter and the Thief” is somehow even more outlandish.
Kysilkova, a well-regarded if financially struggling artist from the Czech Republic, has relocated to Norway to live with her boyfriend. A day after her first Norwegian exhibition, a pair of brazen thieves break into the gallery in broad daylight and steal two magnificent paintings.
The culprits are caught almost immediately; they used extreme caution in removing the paintings safely from their frames but none at all in hiding their identities. The whole crime was recorded on security cameras. One of those thieves is Bertil-Nordland, a thoughtful-but-dejected crook struggling with addiction. He says he had been awake for days at the time of the crime and has no memory of what he did with the painting.
He also says he stole it simply because it was beautiful.
Kysilkova, confused and fascinated by Bertil-Nordland, begins meeting with him — then begins painting him. The friendship they form is curious but easy; you’ll be stunned that she wants to be around the guy that stole her work, but not at all surprised that these two get along so well.
I can’t help but express the slightest amount of skepticism that everything we’re seeing in “The Painter and the Thief” is exactly as it seems; there’s no way of knowing what we’re watching in real time and what events these two are recapping later, edited into a smoother context. This film is less an objective document and more a beautiful demonstration of narrative storytelling.
In that, though, it is exceptional. It would be difficult, if not impossible, to write a fictional tale of unlikely compatriots as odd, nuanced and touching as this.
Stay tuned for the ending, by the way. “The Painter and the Thief” concludes with a last-moment twist that will confirm what you’ve been thinking all along — or immediately make you watch again from the beginning.
My Rating: 8/10
“The Painter and the Thief” is streaming via on-demand services.