Painter and the Thief, The (2020)

Art, crime and the human condition intersect deftly in this beguiling documentary about the unlikely friendship between a painter and the thief who stole her paintings.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Dir. Benjamin Ree
2020 | Norway | Documentary | 102 mins | 1.85:1 | Norwegian & English
NC16 (edited) for some nudity

Plot: An artist befriends the thief who stole her paintings. She becomes his closest ally when he is severely hurt in a car crash and needs full time care, even if her paintings are not found. But then the tables turn.
Awards: Won World Cinema Documentary Special Jury Award – Creative Storytelling (Sundance)
International Sales: Autlook Films (SG: Shaw Organisation)

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate – Art, Crime
Narrative Style:  Complex
Pace: Normal
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse

Viewed: Shaw KinoLounge
Spoilers: No

Watch on Shaw KinoLounge (Singapore only):

If enough buzz and support continue for this documentary, it might be in a strong shout for the Oscars in 2021.  Only Benjamin Ree’s second feature, The Painter and the Thief is one of the year’s most beguiling documentaries, winning an award at Sundance for ‘creative storytelling’. 

By the end, one might be struck by how fluid the film is as it follows a painter and the thief who stole her paintings.  It would have been the stuff of fiction if Ree hadn’t revealed the trappings that naturally undergirded the documentary format. 

Barbora is a Czech painter who has been naturalised in Norway, but she finds it extremely difficult making ends meet as an artist.  With two of her paintings stolen from a gallery by two thieves, and later become missing, she befriends one of the thieves, Karl, in order to understand his actions as he waits to be sent to prison after suffering a major injury in a car crash. 

The Painter and the Thief explores the nature of truth in human action and psychology, as art, crime and the human condition intersect deftly, and at times, emotionally, in the process. 

Everyone is a victim of their own circumstance, and Ree makes it clear that human connection, whether through art or verbal communication, is essential for finding peace with oneself and others. 

As intimate as a documentary can be, The Painter and the Thief is engaging and rewarding.  Curiously, one might even see Ree’s film as a companion piece to Celine Sciamma’s Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019) in its meditation on the painter and her subject, and the implications of reciprocal ‘gazes’ in the creation of art that reflects the existential nature of one’s shared experience with another. 

Grade: A-



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