We all love documentaries, they’re entertaining, factual and if you quote them to people, they think you read! Seriously though, documentaries often provide new and under explored perspectives of our near and distant past, but every now and then, one comes along and re-contextualizes our present and possible future. One such film is Benjamin Ree’s The Painter and The Thief. Telling the story of an artist named Barbora Kysilkova who had two paintings stolen from a gallery. The thieves are apprehended, however unfortunately, the paintings remain missing. Stricken with guilt, the lead thief, Karl Bertil-Nordland, says he will do anything to make it up to Barbora, thus becoming her artistic muse and, from there, a beautiful friendship begins to blossom.
The Painter and The Thief is a rare documentary that lives in the moment, capturing events as they unfold as opposed to sitting down with its subjects and recollecting the past as most documentaries do. It is this sense of life that makes The Painter and The Thief stand out from the crowd as a compelling story falls right into director Benjamin Ree’s lap and he runs with it beautifully. By living in the moment, Ree is able to capture some mesmerizingly authentic images and genuinely real reactions from his subjects. Not only that, but we are able to watch Karl Bertil and Barbora grow and develop as people over the 3 and a half years the film covers.
Although the film is called The Painter and The Thief, it is really the story of the thief, Karl Bertil, which makes the documentary totally absorbing to watch. When we meet him he’s a skinny drug addict who resorts to petty crime to get his next fix, however as the film develops we learn a lot about where he came from, how that informed how he is when we met him and finally, how his relationship with Barbora helps him become a better person. On the other hand, Barbora’s story and character arc isn’t anywhere near as interesting and her struggles are somewhat glossed over, nonetheless, The Painter And The Thief explores her trauma, fascination with destruction and lifesaving relationship with her boyfriend Øystein Stene in such a beautiful way, that you equally can invest in her as a character also.
Overall, The Painter and The Thief is an outstanding documentary that documents the blossoming of an unlikely true friendship and ultimately displays how a single supportive person in your life can make a huge difference. With excellent directing from Benjamin Ree and two compelling and forthcoming subjects in Barbora Kysilkova and especially, Karl Bertil-Nordland, The Painter and The Thief deservedly won best documentary at the London Film Festival and should hopefully be one to watch for this awards season.