In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, multiple acclaimed art house distribution studios have stepped up their digital game by offering an eclectic home video experience. One of these distributors is the award-winning Neon, a company which recently garnered the coveted Best Picture award at this year’s Academy Awards for their underdog awards campaign for Bong Joon-Ho’s masterpiece Parasite. Releasing Spaceship Earth only a mere two weeks ago, their latest on demand venture is nothing short of bewildering. The Painter and the Thief tells the fascinating story of an unlikely friendship between a criminal and an artist. It’s a film about the act of forgiveness and retribution, and how in the most estranged of places, a relationship can blossom out of compassion and amnesty. 

For better or for worse, Benjamin Ree’s direction is incredibly theatrical. The fluidity of the shots and scenes, alongside the stark realism almost make the film seem staged at certain parts. For example, the film features a live drug deal and includes multiple intimate conversations which turn rather emotional. The end result is a cinematic experience, which breaks the mold of documentary conventions. This meta-viewing experience has been obviously been successfully attempted before, with the works of Errol Morris, Michael Moore, Agnès Varda, and Mads Brügger in mind. Though the final product is an impressive enough feat to give credit where credit is due. Accompanied by colorist Tom Lillevedt’s beautiful usage of a stark monotone color palette to create a melancholic visual tone, the final cut of the film looks brilliant both at home and in a live cinema experience. 

Though the major drawback to The Painter and the Thief is the progression of its events. The timeline flies far too quickly. There’s not enough material to truly reflect on key moments throughout the relationship between Karl-Bertil Nordland and Barbora Kysilkova. In theory, the film contains approximately four years worth of thematic material, condescended to about 100 minutes. Starting from November of 2015 to the Winter of 2019, The Painter and the Thief needed more momentum in order to truly ingrain the emotional gravity of the situations at play with its audience. The final fifteen minutes especially, regarding the whereabouts of the Swan Song painting, is rushed and never truly holds enough ground with the rest of the dense material. 

The Painter and the Thief is without a doubt an amazing true-crime story. Both a film about getting back from a path of self destruction and the perseverance of the human soul, you simply can’t go wrong with this film. In a market saturated with annoyingly amateur crime ventures such as Netflix’s The Tiger King, Benjamin Ree’s approach to this unconventional subject matter is refreshing to say the least. Back boned with Uno Helmersoon’s original score which can be best described as the lovechild between Mica Levi and the instrumental accompaniments of Coldplay; the organ based soundtrack creates an atmospheric and relaxed viewing experience.

Ultimately, that’s what The Painter and the Thief can be best described as:

A vibe-oriented documentary with a heart of gold. 

The Painter and the Thief is Now Available to Rent & Stream

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