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The Painter and the Thief

Benjamin Ree

Not your traditional documentary about an artist and their muse, The Painter and the Thief is an utterly fascinating tale of stolen art, lost souls, the healing power of the creative process, and even a fascinating insight into the Norwegian criminal justice system. Eschewing a traditional A to B chronology, Norwegian filmmaker Benjamin Ree tells this story from multiple perspectives and unfolds the strength of the relationship that develops between artist and subject. We go on a journey with them, learning about the obstacles they face and the power and impact of two individuals who come to recognize themselves in the other – the darkness, wounds, compulsions, and self-destructive behaviour.

“…an extraordinary story of human connection and friendship”

When two large scale works by Czech naturalist Barbora Kysilkova are stolen from an Oslo art gallery, Norwegian authorities quickly identify and arrest the two thieves but find no trace of the paintings. Hoping to learn what happened, Barbora approaches one of the thieves, Karl-Bertil Nordland, at his criminal hearing. She asks if she can paint his portrait and, contrite, he agrees. What follows – over a series of portraits and many years – is an extraordinary story of human connection and friendship.

Ree sensitively captures the revelatory moment when Bertil, a drug addict and petty thief who has done jail time, first sees his portrait and breaks down completely. Throughout the film, our understanding of both people – and even the stolen paintings – changes entirely. In life, certain aspects of human nature defy comprehension, and yet Ree materializes them in a way that is accessible and transcendent.

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