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Sundance 2020 Review: “The Painter and the Thief” (2020) ★★★★


There is a certain beauty in real-life stories told through documentaries when we learn about fascinating events which otherwise we wouldn’t know anything about; something that would blow our mind away. The story told in “The Painter and the Thief” is one of the rarest things happening between humans. But that’s exactly the world we live in full of wonder. Despite the odds, it delivers the biggest surprise with a life-long lasting impact.

Benjamin Ree’s “The Painter and the Thief” follows an Oslo-based artist, Barbora Kysilkova, whose paintings were stolen by two thieves. When she walks into the courtroom to find answers to her daring questions, she had no idea that she is about to make an unlikely friendship with the man who committed the robbery. One simple question – “I wonder if I could paint you?” marks the beginning of an extraordinary tale that’s filled with the feelings of compassion and empathy we all should learn from. The film offers two sides of the story – Barbora’s and Karl-Bertil’s.

When the documentary begins, we quickly become absorbed by it. Barbora, who we later learn has had a troubled past, endured that pain which helped her to build up a universe in which she can create art. Through her paintings, she finds a unique way to express herself. And when two of them were stolen, the woman was seeking answers, which set the path for her to meet one of the thieves named Karl-Bertil. In the beginning, it all started just as a conversation when the man was released from prison eight years later. The woman hopes that he can redeem himself by being her model. But what she does not know is that he is too cautious of her and must learn to trust her as well.

As the film offers two perspectives of the story, you will find it amazing how cleverly it has been structured in terms of the timelines. For instance, when Karl-Bertil gets into a car accident, he would not have even imagined that the person who will help him recover from the accident will be Barbora herself. And if he had any doubts about her before, it all slowly fades away as the two open up each other’s heart towards building a strong friendship that’s filled with kindness and care which the film so perfectly captures.

That said, we as the audience or as a temporary resident of this planet must find a way to bond with what we believe is impossible. Who would expect that the painter and the thief can become close allies? That they may cry and laugh together? What this film, or rather Barbora and Karl-Bertil’s story reminds of is that putting our differences aside is not difficult but to get to that point needs courage and self-confidence to extract that ability we all possess to love and care about those when the rest of the world has rejected them.

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