Norwegian filmmaker Benjamin Ree’s second feature-length documentary, The Painter and the Thief, announces him as a major talent, a keen observer of the human condition. Effortlessly switching perspectives and timelines, he paints a vivid portrait of a symbiotic relationship between two lost, kindred souls, touching upon a plethora of themes with delicate brushstrokes which collectively morph into a multilayered piece. The Painter and the Thief demands that you take a few proverbial steps back and allow all the intricate details to emerge.
Struggling Czech artist Barbora Kysilkova paints vivid, gargantuan, naturalistic oil portraits of nature and people that seem to explode off the canvas. Two of Barbora’s most notable works, worth almost 20,000 Euros, were stolen from the gallery Nobel in Oslo (where she resides with her husband). The meticulous theft was caught on security footage. “We have identified the thieves,” the police informs Barbora over the phone. “Unfortunately, we have not found the paintings. The investigation is now closed.” Barbora is intrigued rather than appalled, determined to find out what happened to her paintings.
“Two of Barbora’s most notable works…were stolen…she confronts one of the thieves…”
She confronts one of the thieves, Karl-Bertil, in court. He says that he stole the paintings because they were beautiful and claims not to remember what he did with them. He says he was wasted, “Everything is just a big blur from that month… it wasn’t me.” She ponders this and proposes a daring question, “Since I’m a painter… maybe we can meet sometime?” And so begins a beautiful, albeit tumultuous, friendship.
A drug-addicted criminal haunted by a traumatic childhood, his chest and arms covered in tattoos that represent his demons, Karl-Bertil finds salvation in Barbora. Her first painting of him, which shows him fishing something out of a glass of red wine, provokes a spectacularly raw reaction from the man; he crumbles to pieces. He writes her heartbreakingly honest letters to express the depth of his feelings. Prone to zoning out and disappearing for days, Karl-Bertil ends up getting into a terrible car accident.