‘The Painter and the Thief’: Art, crime, addiction and friendship explored in moving Norwegian documentary

For the subjects of Benjamin Ree‘s new documentary “The Painter and the Thief,” the story begins with a pair of paintings stolen by a man in the throes of drug addiction from a gallery where a woman recently debuted her art that attempts to wrestle with her own past trauma. From there the painter, Barbora Kysilkova, and the thief, Karl-Bertil Nordland, form the unlikeliest of bonds, leading to major turning points in both their lives as well as one indelible friendship. Watch the trailer above.

In only his second feature film, Norwegian documentarian Ree discovers two compelling subjects in “The Painter and the Thief” and lets their own exploration of each other tell his story. After a courtroom appearance during which Kysilkova first sees Nordland, she invites him to her studio so that she can paint him, seeing in him something inescapable that inspires her to put his likeness on canvas.

One incredibly emotional scene arrives early on in the film when Kysilkova shows Nordland her first portrait of him and he breaks down in tears, seemingly moved so incredibly by her vision of him that he can barely look away. It’s at that point that their bond to one another is forever sealed, and as he continues to struggle with addiction and she must answer to her own past while their friendship shifts and evolves in unexpected ways.

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“The Painter and the Thief” premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January, where it won the World Cinema Documentary Special Jury Award for Creative Storytelling. It also won top prizes for documentaries at the London, Hong Kong International and Norwegian International Film Festivals. It has since picked up two major nominations from the Critics Choice Documentary Awards for Best Documentary Feature and Best Director.

If you’re looking to compare “The Painter and the Thief” to recent Oscar nominees, consider 2018’s “Minding the Gap,” 2017’s “Faces Places” and 2013’s “Cutie and the Boxer.” Like those films, “The Painter and the Thief” uses the intimate relationship of its subjects to tell deeper tales of friendship, forgiveness, and the ways that art is not only a reflection of life, but an active participant in human growth. When it comes to the academy’s interest in documentaries, the human condition is as much of a draw as politics, war or celebrity.

“The Painter and the Thief” is available now to stream on Hulu. It currently holds a score of 78 on Metacritic and a 97 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

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