Review: The Painter and the Thief

In his latest documentary film, The Painter and the Thief (2020), director Benjamin Ree begins by presenting audiences with a true crime story, then quickly transforms his narrative into a psychologically driven multimedia arthouse extravaganza. Ree probes deep layers of the human psyche, prompting contemplation of some of life’s most provocative questions. He explores whether it is right to use someone else’s suffering and hardships to create art and whether episodes of violence can truly capture beautiful artistic moments.

The two subjects of this documentary drama are Barbora Kysilkova and Karl-Bertil Nordland, the former a Czech naturalist painter living in Oslo, and the latter a Norwegian ex-con struggling with a drug addiction. Under normal circumstances, these two would not likely associate with one another. However, Nordland and an accomplice steal two of Kysilkova’s artworks from a local gallery, resulting in the men’s arrest, but not the recovery of the paintings. In an attempt to make amends for his recent transgressions, Birtel becomes Barbora’s new portrait model. Interactions which emerge from a sense of duty evolve into a beautiful friendship.

Barbora’s oil paintings which enrich and surround the feature’s foreground and background, along with Ree’s fascinating use of multimedia are worthy of multiple viewings. It is most impressive how Ree has edited several scenes to present his cast in the foreground as they look at images of themselves on television and Facebook. In doing so, Ree effectively creates a 21st-century spin on Norman Rockwell’s Triple Self-Portrait (1959). Finally, the editing of several scenes creates an almost out of body experience and keeps the audience on their toes.

By the end of this film, viewers not only may gain a new perspective on the modern art world, but also enjoy the opportunity to digitally change places with others and calibrate their own empathy levels.



  1. Fenton

    Thanks for this – I want to see it for sure!

  2. Margaret Swallow

    Peter, after watching this film my initial reaction was “truth really is stranger than fiction.” Thanks for your review and insights.

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