Some directors are born to documentary filmmaking. To be able to build an arc through real-life events, to capture the essence of real people and their challenges, building enough trust with those subjects to get at deeper truths, to keep an audience connected to the subjects, these are what make a great documentarian. Benjamin Ree has 15 short documentaries to his credit. With his second feature, the Norwegian director brings all these elements to The Painter and the Thief, which won the World Cinema Documentary Special Jury Award for Creative Storytelling at 2020’s Sundance Film Festival. Distributor Neon is releasing the film through video on demand on May 22nd.
The Painter and the Thief is the remarkable, transformative story of little-known Caravaggio-influenced Czech artist Barbora Kysilkova, known as Barbar, and former addict and poet Karl-Bertil Nordland, who stole two of her paintings from a group show at Galleri Nobel in Oslo on April 20th, 2015. The paintings, one called “Chloe & Emma”, the other “Swan Song”, captured her modern, hyper-realistic, darkness-meets-physicality aesthetic. When Barbar found herself in the position to speak to Karl-Bertil, one of two perpetrators, she took it. That meeting began a long and complicated friendship that demanded forgiveness, truthfulness, self-exploration, and acceptance. The Painter and the Thief seems to capture it all.