Review: Unlikely friendship forms in stunning 'The Painter and the Thief'

Documentary captures raw moments of humanity and heads in unexpected directions

Adam Graham
Detroit News Film Critic

Friendship, forgiveness and the healing power of art are at the center of "The Painter and the Thief," the fascinating story of an unlikely human connection. 

Barbora Kysilkova is a renowned Czech artist, known for her photo-realistic paintings. One day two of her works are stolen from an Oslo art gallery, and the two perpetrators are caught on security cam. 

Karl Bertil-Nordland and Barbora Kysilkova in "The Painter and the Thief."

Karl-Bertil Nordland is one of the two men brought to trial for the theft. Barbora approaches him in court and offers to paint him, forging a bond that reveals itself in moving, truly unexpected ways.  

Barbora and Karl-Bertil, an admitted junkie and thief with the words "Snitchers are a Dying Breed" tattooed across his chest, become friends, but this is not an easy, flowery story of redemption. (That would be the Hollywood version.)

Barbora's attraction to Karl-Bertil speaks to her own darkness and emotional scarring, and rightly worries her husband, Øystein. Meanwhile, Karl-Bertil has a layered past and his own demons, which land him in prison in another one of the film's twists.  

Director Benjamin Ree pieces this stranger-than-fiction documentary together like a puzzle, shifting the time structure and the narrative elements to best fit the version of the story he's telling. His technique manipulates the linear architecture but allows him to land an ending that sends shockwaves. The risk is worth the reward.   

Most stunningly, he captures a scene where Karl-Bertil first sees Barbora's painting of him, and he howls like a baby. It's a raw human moment that is emblematic of "The Painter and the Thief," a film that keeps revealing itself in stunning, unpredictable ways. It's a knockout.


'The Painter and the Thief'


Not rated: Language, adult situations

Running time: 102 minutes

View the film through Detroit Film Theatre's Virtual Cinema here