Charting the most unlikely on-screen friendship of the year, this boundlessly compassionate doc revels in the mysteries and complexities of human connection. It’s a real heart-filler: the story of an up-and-coming artist and the drug-fuelled criminal who pinched one of her most prized paintings, only to encounter his victim in court. It’s a story of forgiveness, kindness and recovery, overseen with even-handedness and an eye for a sudden curveball by Norwegian director Benjamin Ree.
The painter is Barbora Kysilkova, an Oslo artist yearning for a breakthrough, and the thief is drifter and junkie Karl Bertil-Nordland. It’s not his first courtroom date but it is Barbora’s and there’s a sense of some strange protocol being breached when she asks him to meet her in the outside world. Soon, the pair begin to engage: him, wary and suspicious; her, inquisitive and eager to know more about the night of the crime.
The Painter and the Thief invites you to interrogate Barbora’s motivations for sparking this initially uneasy relationship. Is it morbid curiosity? A desire to get her painting back? The sense that Karl might represent a kind of strange artistic endeavour for her is amplified when she asks him to pose for a portrait.
But all that is to grossly underestimate both her and the film. Both characters’ interior lives are laid bare by fly-and-the-wall footage that’s split equally between them. It charts two people almost as complex, deep and, in their own ways, gifted and troubled as each other. You soon feel guilty at having seen their growing bond in such transactional terms. Between them, they show what it means to be really seen for the first time, what it means to create and how impossible life can feel when you’re really struggling in your own skin. The truths that spill forth from this unlikely platonic love story are touching and deeply relatable.
In UK cinemas and available in the US on PVOD now.