Skip to main content

‘The Painter and the Thief’ Review: The Art of Healing (and Vice Versa)

The Painter and the Thief, Benjamin Ree's documentary on a curious friendship, starts with a crime. The Czech artist Barbora Kysilkova is exhibiting her work in an Oslo gallery — she's recently moved to Norway to live with her husband — when two paintings are stolen. They are worth roughly 20,000 euros together; one of them, "Swan Song," is considered to be her masterpiece. Surveillance footage captures a duo entering the building through a back door and exiting with two rolled-up canvases. The culprits are later identified and caught. During a hearing, Kysilkova approaches one of the accused. His name is Karl Bertil-Nordland. Why did you pick those two particular paintings to steal, she inquires. "Because they were beautiful," he replies.

Ree has said that he had come across the case when he was researching the high rate of art theft in his the Scandinavian country, and had originally envisioned doing a short piece on the what, where and why of it all. Instead, he stumbled on to something a lot more intriguing. A drug addict and petty thief, Bertil-Nordland can't remember what he and his partner did with their bounty. It's all sort of blur, he says. As penance, the painter asks him to meet with her and allow himself to be sketched. The handsome, tattooed crook is confused by the offer. Still, he agrees to sit for Kysilkova. They chat, smoke, drink coffee; at times, it almost seems like the artist is flirting with her subject.

She also starts working on a proper portrait based on the drawings. They slowly get to know each other. Ree's cameras capture all of this. Most importantly, he is there when Kysilkova shows Bertil-Nordland what she's been up to, at which point you witness one of the most astonishing real-time emotional displays to be captured on film … and the documentary suddenly becomes an entirely different beast altogether.

A profound look at the art of healing — and the healing power of art — The Painter and the Thief ends up delving into the past of both people, and excavating lifetimes of pain, trauma, good and bad decisions. Bertil-Nordland, it turns out, was not always a career criminal; he loved to teach, he was a competitive BMX racer, he's an expert in traditional carpentry. Kysilkova was not always a renowned artist, and has experienced more than her share of rough patches. Both of them are broken, with histories involving substance abuse, domestic violence, familial strife and ongoing self-destructive streaks. Stability is not a guarantee for either of them moving forward. But both contain multitudes, and if nothing else, Ree's film is a tribute to taking the time to know someone, to hearing someone's story, to forgiving transgressions, and to getting to the point where you can accept that you have something to offer.

That Ree was present to record their burgeoning, mutually life-changing bond feels like an insane stroke of luck. The fact that he's shaped this footage into something so moving, however, is a testament to his talent and his subjects' fearlessness. If the film flags a bit when the two of them have a temporary falling out and the focus shifts to Bertil-Nordland getting his act together and whether this friendship affected Kysilkova's marriage (spoiler: yes, it did), these detours eventually prove to be gap-filling necessities. It makes the point at which we leave both of these people that much more affecting. You can be successfully creative or you can end taking a much more crooked path. As The Painter and the Thief so ably demonstrates, your life is worthy or compassion and consideration regardless.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

History of Art Timeline

The historical past of art is usually told as a chronology of masterpieces created during each civilization. It can thus be framed as a narrative of high culture, epitomized by the Wonders of the World. On any other hand, vernacular art expressions can even be integrated into art historic narratives, called folk arts or craft. The more intently that an art historian engages with these latter sorts of low culture, the much more likely it is that they will determine their work as analyzing visual culture or cloth culture, or as contributing to fields associated with art historical past, akin to anthropology or archaeology. In the latter cases, art gadgets may be called archeological artifacts. Surviving art from this era comprises small carvings in stone or bone and cave painting. The first traces of human-made gadgets appeared in southern Africa, the Western Mediterranean, Central and Eastern Europe Adriatic Sea, Siberia Baikal Lake, India, and Australia. These first traces are generall

‘A boiling point’: UC Berkeley art community calls for institutional change

Amid ongoing national unrest, college communities continue to call for change by challenging institutional practices, racism and social justice issues. Over the past few months, the UC Berkeley art community has questioned the responses and actions of campus administration. In a letter sent to the faculty and administrators of UC Berkeley's Department of Art Practice in June, alumni and students demanded acknowledgment of the Black Lives Matter movement and a commitment to remove white supremacy from art institutions, among other demands. "There is a heavy hypocrisy in the silence and inaction of institutions that pride themselves on values of inclusivity and diversity, claim to prioritize marginalized voices, and borrow from radical decolonial practices of BIPOC," the letter states. During the same month, senior faculty from the department responded with a letter stating their support for the Black Lives Matter movement and their commitment to reparative work wit

Bob Gibson was not just best pitcher of modern era, but during time of strife, mastered the art of fear

For a lot of successful athletes, winning in competition is about winning their own internal battles between anger and fear. One can be generated by the other. One can also be erased by the other. Those who effectively use anger, even if they must fabricate it, can overcome their fear and simultaneously instill it within the opponent. This statement covers a lot of competitors and a lot of time, so I don't issue it carelessly. But in all my years, I've never seen an athlete channel fear in the opposition more effectively than Bob Gibson. He was the young Mike Tyson of baseball, way before Iron Mike. And unlike him, Gibson didn't flame out in his prime. He was not only the best in the business during a 5-year span in the mid-'60s (1964-68), he won his second Cy Young in 1970 at age 31 and threw a no-hitter the next year against the best hitting lineup – and it turned out, best team – in baseball that season, the 1971 Pittsburgh Pirates. I saw an old fan on