Sundance 2020: The Painter and the Thief

A still from The Painter and the Thief by Benjamin Ree, an official selection of the World Cinema Documentary Competition at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute. Photo by Benjamin Ree.

The Painter and the Thief documents the friendship between a Norway artist and the man who ended up stealing her artwork.

This film reminds me of the Neo-Nazis who reform their lives and start speaking out against hate.  Here we have Oslo-based artist Barbora Kysilkova choosing to become an ally to Karl-Bertil.  Of all friendships to happen in the history of the world, this is among the oddest of couplings.  The fact that she chooses to help him when he’s hurt in a car crash shows that there’s empathy to be found even when he stole her paintings.  Will the paintings ever be found?

A theft took place at the Gallery Nobel in Oslo in 2015.  Two pieces of artwork from a little-known artist were stolen.  You would think that thieves would want to steal artwork made from somebody with a bigger name.  Nope.  What compelled them to steal these particular pieces of art?  This is where documentary filmmaker Benjamin Ree begins to dive into the story.  It’s amazing how far we’ll go following a Google search but it can sometimes result in a film.  Me?  I can look up one thing on Wikipedia and be there for hours.  G-d forbid I start doing genealogical research because it might be days before escaping out of the woodwork.  Okay, I digress.

Shortly after Karl-Bertil was arrested and taken into custody, Barbora Kysilkova heads to the courthouse in hopes of finding out were the two pieces of stolen artwork are.  What happens next is something that nobody could ever predict.  It may impossible to imagine but what Barbora finds is a criminal that she wants to paint.  Nobody could have ever seen this coming but the muse strikes when it strikes!

Barbora is the one steps up when Karl-Bertil needs full-time care following the crash.  Again, she is probably the last person anyone would expect to step up to the plate.  But alas, here we are.  If there’s a real life Odd Couple, they would perfectly fit the definition.  Benjamin Ree meets them very early on and follows them around for another three years.  He uses the cinéma vérité style to get a take on their friendship and in doing so, he unveils layer upon layer.  What makes someone want to do something?  This film answers the question.

The Painter and the Thief shows that we should also look for the light in a world of darkness.

DIRECTOR:  Benjamin Ree
CAST:  Barbora Kysilkova, Karl-Bertil

The Painter and the Thief holds its world premiere during the 2020 Sundance Film Festival in the World Cinema Documentary program. Grade: 3.5/5

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.