Painter and the Thief remake

When the coronavirus pandemic ramped up back in March, it became clear that 2020 would have a giant asterisk next to it when we look back on this bizarre period in history. As a movie year, it’s been…well, “unconventional” doesn’t seem accurate enough to do it justice. But while tons of big films have shifted out of this year and left giant gaps in our typical entertainment diet, many of those gaps were filled by smaller movies which were released directly to streaming services.

Example: The Painter and the Thief, an utterly transfixing documentary which debuted at Sundance and premiered on Hulu in May. Now that surprising true story about a painter who interviews a thief who stole her work is getting a narrative remake from Neon, the same distribution company that released the original documentary.

Deadline reports that Neon, Studiocanal, and Blueprint Pictures are teaming up for The Painter and the Thief remake, which will dramatize the stranger-than-fiction events which played out in the award-winning documentary. (The original film won a Special Jury Award for Creative Storytelling at this year’s Sundance Film Festival in January.) The movie made a bit of a splash earlier this year, but I would still classify it as a bit of a hidden gem and encourage everyone to seek it out on Hulu. Here’s the trailer and the official synopsis:

Desperate for answers about the theft of her two paintings, a Czech artist seeks out and befriends the career criminal who stole them. After inviting her thief to sit for a portrait, the two form an improbable relationship and an inextricable bond that will forever link these lonely souls.

Neon acquired the remake rights when they purchased the distribution rights for the doc during Sundance, and the company later hosted a bidding war for the remake, with Studiocanal and Blueprint Pictures coming out on top.

This is far from the first time that a documentary has served as the inspiration for a high-profile narrative feature. Little Dieter Needs to Fly inspired Werner Herzog’s Rescue Dawn, the excellent Man on Wire led to Robert Zemeckis’s not-so-excellent The Walk, and Marwencol preceded Zemeckis’s completely disastrous Welcome to Marwen, just to name a few. OK, so maybe those aren’t the greatest examples!

My gut reaction to this is one of confusion. A huge part of the reason the documentary is so compelling is because it details a genuine and completely bizarre human relationship at its center. Knowing that the interactions are all real allows us to invest in that relationship – or at least to marvel at it. I can’t imagine actors going through these same motions will be able to recapture the same sense of immediacy and curiosity that the documentary stimulates. But since no director, writer, or actors have been cast yet, I’ll reserve further judgment until I learn more about this narrative version.

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