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Stream Slate #67: The Painter and the Thief

by Danielle Burgos


The Painter and the Thief ($3.99 rental supporting Screen Slate)

Screen Slate is thrilled to partner with NEON to bring our readers the new film The Painter and the Thief. 50% of all proceeds from the $3.99 rental made through us will go toward supporting Screen Slate as we continue to pay writers, redevelop our website to accommodate streaming listings, and provide artist fees.

This editorial was produced independently by Screen Slate without oversight by our promotional partner.
Stream The Painter and the Thief

Two paintings are brazenly stolen from an Oslo gallery window. The motivation is uncertain, as creator Barbora Kysilkova is a relatively unknown artist who only recently came to Norway. The thieves are quickly caught. At trial, Barbora introduces herself to Karl-Bertil Nordland, the man who stole her work. She befriends him, questions him, sees him, and paints him, causing Nordland to have a full-on emotional breakdown when he views himself on canvas. For other documentaries, this would be the full story arc. In The Painter and the Thief, it’s the first ten minutes.

This is only the second feature documentary from director Benjamin Ree, who filmed this shifting story as it unfolded over three years. Ree’s personal fascination with art heists and his background in journalism helped him capture lightning in a bottle, coming into Barbora and Karl’s budding relationship so early, and correctly sensing the germ of a deeper story rife with unexpected turns. Ree’s curiosity matches Barbora’s own, although he’s a silent partner to Barbora’s forthright, at times obtrusive inquiry of Karl.

By design, The Painter and the Thief initially seems to fall prey to that earnest documentary blind spot of a character versed in the “respectable” language of art or academia (here, The Painter) translating and defining the life of the “other” (The Thief), validating them as a person for us. But Ree highlights viewers’ reflexive expectations with a story structure based on therapeutic practices of shifting empathy, as Ree described it to Filmmaker Magazine. Karl now calmly relates Barbora’s own dark details and painful past, and the film soon hollows the labels of its own title.

Ree quietly floats minutiae that later expand to key insights, suggesting what draws Barbora and Karl to each other. The odd note of removed frame nails instead of slashed canvas during the theft comes back in full, as Karl’s pride in carpentry and craft illuminates why he noticed the paintings in the first place.

As they continue reassembling their lives, Karl and Barbora’s crafts come together in a painting where she inverts the gaze from photographic reality. Early in the film Karl says of Barbora, “She sees me very well, but she forgets that I can see her.” With the new piece, Barbora can finally see herself through Karl’s caring gaze, the painting a physical manifestation of the emotional space they built out for each other.

Other new releases and revivals to support Screen Slate

Screen Slate has curated a special selection of new releases and revivals/restorations available to rent, with 50% of proceeds supporting us as we continue to pay writers, redevelop our website, and offer honorariums for our new screening series. Members receive special pricing for select titles.
L'important c'est d'aimer (Andrzej Żuławski, 1975)

Opening today • New revival from the director of Possession

Romy Schneider delivers a César Award-winning performance as a down-on-her-luck actress in this critically acclaimed romantic psychodrama from Andrzej Żuławski. Fabio Testi co-stars as smitten tabloid photographer, with Jacques Dutronc as her smarmy husband and Klaus Kinski as — what else — a cracked actor. A Film Movement release.

Rent it here for $10
A White, White Day (Hlynur Palmason, 2020)

In a remote Icelandic town, an off-duty police chief begins to suspect a local man of having had an affair with his late wife, who died in a tragic accident two years earlier. Gradually his obsession for finding out the truth accumulates and inevitably begins to endanger himself and his loved ones. A Film Movement release.

Rent it here for $12 / $10 members

Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands (Bruno Barreto, 1976) - New Restoration

Based on the novel by Jorge Amado, this landmark Brazilian comedy follows the strange events that befall Dona Flor (Sonia Braga) after the death of her wild husband. After remarrying, she finds her less-than-satisfying sex life revived when the ghost of her late husband returns. A Film Movement release.

Rent it here for $12 / $10 members
Spaceship Earth (Matt Wolf, 2020)

In 1991, 8 researchers entered the Biosphere 2, a geodesic structure touted as the largest closed ecological system on Earth. Matt Wolf's acclaimed documentary charts the stranger-than-fiction drama that ensued. A NEON release.

Rent it here for $3.99
The Whistlers (Corneliu Porumboiu, 2020)

A cool, deadpan neo-noir about a corrupt undercover cop who must learn an indigenous language based on whistling to pull off a hesit. The Whistlers has been hailed as a Romanian answer to the Coen Bros. A Magnolia Pictures release.

Rent it here for $12 / $10 members
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