The Painter and the Thief movie poster
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The Painter and the Thief
The Painter and the Thief movie poster

The Painter and the Thief Movie Review

Now available on Blu-ray and DVD (Buy on Amazon)

I’m in need of a new best friend. What I think I’ll do is dress in my best suit, bills hanging out of my pockets, and go wander around the bad part of town. The first person who robs me, I’m going to befriend.

The Painter and the Thief is about the nicest artist in the world: a man, high on life and other things, steals two of Czech artist Barbora Kysilkova’s expensive paintings from an art gallery (in broad daylight), and instead of channeling all her hate and fury toward him, she requires that he become a subject for her work. And ultimately, she befriends him. The movie documents his transformation from criminal loser to functioning member of society.

This documentary by Benjamin Ree isn’t my usual documentary fare--“the more fucked up the better” is my typical motto. The Painter and the Thief squarely falls into inspirational territory; while Ree spends plenty of time exploring Kysilkova’s background, at its heart is a redemption tale for Karl-'Bertil' Nordland, a career criminal who looks like the kind of individual you’d try to avoid in life. Proof that even the most hardened of individuals have an opportunity to change, Ree taps into Nordland’s emotional salvation.

Though inspiration, Thief is hardly a “feel good” glossover; Ree’s examination is a compelling character study, a thorough documentation of emotional complexity and self exploration. In an early scene, when Nordland gets his first look at Kysilkova’s portrait, his reaction is heartbreaking; in that moment you observe and experience what Nordland is, that someone took the time to see him as a person--and not a threat to be avoided and dismissed. It’s a tear-jerking moment if you’ve ever seen one.

The only limitation The Painter and the Thief faces is my own preferences for documentaries; by definition, it isn’t the kind of doc that is going to blow me away or send me racing to the rooftops to proclaim its brilliance. But for a film that, despite my desires, looks positively at human outlook and the ability to change, it’s a terrific piece of filmmaking. 

Whoever ends up robbing me, I’m going to paint. The end result may not look quite as fantastic as Kysilkova’s work, and it may not even bring my new best friend to tears. But it’ll be colorful, and deep, and that’s all you can ask for. And that’s what The Painter and the Thief delivers.

Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.

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