The Painter and the Thief

(Welcome to The Quarantine Stream, a new series where the /Film team shares what they’ve been watching while social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.)

The MovieThe Painter and the Thief

Where You Can Stream It: Hulu

The Pitch: In pop culture, art heists are often meticulously planned, and the mark is typically a villain who the movies depict as “deserving” of having their art stolen. But in real life, that’s not always the case. The Painter and the Thief is a documentary about what happens when an artist’s paintings are stolen and the artist confronts the man who took them.

Why It’s Essential Viewing: There are a million movies and TV shows you could watch that might barely hold your attention while you’re relaxing on the couch. But if you really want to watch something, and want to see something that will grab you from the first frame and command your full attention, look no further than The Painter and the Thief.

Writing about this particular movie for this column is challenging, because I knew next to nothing about it before I watched it and I would recommend that same experience to everyone. So if you haven’t seen the film yet, maybe just stop reading, head over to Hulu, and give it a shot.

Without spoiling too much, The Painter and the Thief is captivating and unlike anything I’ve seen because of the remarkable relationship at its center. Artist Barbora Kysilkova is understandably upset when two of her paintings are stolen from a gallery in Oslo in the opening minutes of the movie, but unlike an Ocean’s Eleven-style heist that was planned down to the second, this theft was seemingly random. In court, she comes face to face with one of the men who stole her artwork, and at the end of their conversation, she asks if they could meet again so she can paint his portrait. Oddly, he agrees, and the rest of the film explores ideas of forgiveness, addiction, dependence, destructive tendencies, and more, with director Benjamin Ree (Magnus) spending equal time focusing on the artist and the man who stole from her.

In a world in which people frequently pile-on when others screw up (and I’m guilty of this, too), it feels almost alien to watch someone devote the time to interrogate the underlying issues of a crime against her when she so clearly has the moral high ground and could have easily approached this situation in a totally different (but justified) manner. The reason I couldn’t look away is I didn’t want to miss a single word between these two parties or a single look on their faces – this entire situation is so surreal that I found myself compelled to soak in every detail of their interactions.

The movie itself isn’t perfect. It plays a little fast and loose with time (it’s tough to know how much time has elapsed between any given event) and it suggests a narrative arc that may or may not have actually happened. But it won the World Cinema Documentary Special Jury Award for Creative Storytelling at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, and there’s definitely enough here to give it an easy recommendation. Fair warning: the film’s last shot will send you on a Google spree to learn the truth behind its implication.

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