Karl Bertil-Nordland Barbora Kysilkova
True stories make the best dramas by far. This Norwegian documentary shows the actual painter and the two actual thieves who stole two of her paintings. After going to one’s trial and meeting him, Barbora developed a most unlikely friendship with Karl. He had no memory of the theft—except that he loved the paintings—but he was on drugs at the time. Not only did he have no memory of the event, he never had any contact with the other thief again.
This is a fine documentary by Benjamin Ree, a young filmmaker with extraordinary insight into the psychological make-up of the two figures, highlighting the concept of forgiveness that runs throughout the amazing story. The craft of storytelling is supported by the music of Uno Helmersson and the brilliant cinematography of Kristoffer Kumar and Benjamin Ree himself. Stark images of winter scenes and wreckages are counterbalanced by warm human connections, vivid colors, and the magic of painting.
Characteristic of provocative documentaries, The Painter and the Thief keeps the viewer engaged in two mysteries: How the friendship will play out and where the paintings are now. The more entertaining of these is getting to know the two characters, each of which has significant background (childhood) experiences that propel them into their individual lifestyles. The common bond turns out to be abuse of different kinds leading each into self-destructive behaviors. Once again, there is a paradox. Hers has to do with being a rescuer; his with addictions that threaten not only his relationships but also his life. Here’s where it works. She is steadfast in a way he has never known in his life; he gives her genuine praise for all kinds of things, which raises a lifetime of low self-esteem and self-worth.
Seldom in life or in dramatic films/plays/literature is there a story about two self-destructive figures forming a therapeutic relationship, and further, creating a lasting bond. Noteworthy in this documentary are the demonstrations of the efficacy of psychotherapy and rehabilitation in prison and in personal lives.
Your experience of this film is likely to be fascination, curiosity, and mystery—not necessarily woven into many documentaries—along with a renewed appreciation for forgiveness.
Documentaries that come across as dramas renew our faith in the saying that truth can be stranger than fiction.