Thursday, March 4, 2021

Movie with Abe: The Painter and the Thief

The Painter and the Thief
Directed by Benjamin Ree
Released May 22, 2020 (Hulu)

Some relationships start in truly fascinating ways. Couples may describe the way in which they met as completely surprising, and it’s possible that they never expected romance when they were introduced in whatever manner it was that almost didn’t happen. Friendships can be even more unpredictable, arising from situations in which two people found themselves completely at odds and even on different sides of a conflict. Such is the premise of this Oscar-shortlisted documentary that reveals its dynamic in its title, exploring the fascinating interactions of an accomplished artist and the man she met when he stole her work.

Czech artist Barbora Kysilkova was introduced to Karl Bertil-Nordland at a hearing following his arrest for stealing two of her paintings from a gallery in Norway. The ensuing meetings the two have reveal plenty about both of them, including a history of drug addiction for Karl that has led to him not being able to remember anything about the robbery or the location of what he took. Barbora continues their conversations, forming a bond with a man who has had considerably different life experiences than she has yet shares a remarkably similar appreciation for the beauty of her work.

If its premise wasn’t intriguing enough from the start, this film quickly reaches that point with what may be its most poignant scene. After Karl agrees to let Barbora paint him, he gets to see the work for the first time. He is so overcome by emotion and tears that he simply cannot speak, and this film just sits with him for several minutes as he takes in the sight of himself reflected back by someone who should have every reason to hate him. It’s certainly not what audiences would expect from the heavily-tattooed man the artist first meets in court, and it’s precisely that evolving relationship that makes this film so fascinating.

This is a documentary about two people coming together and creating a common understanding that enables them to learn a great deal from and about each other. The open-mindedness exhibited by Barbora and the positive way that she feeds her curiosity are inspiring, and Karl is a particularly gentle soul whose physical appearance and criminal record surely haven’t enabled him the same opportunities throughout his life. As the film follows its characters through unexpected and unfortunate developments, it only becomes more interesting and touching.


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