Barbora kysilkova is a young and unknown Czech hyperrealist painter who lives in Oslo (Norway). There she manages to exhibit in a gallery in the city in 2015, when she receives strange news. The building’s security cameras have registered two men entering the place and taking two of her paintings, which are hardly worth in the market. Without even being at night, they remove the gigantic canvases from their frames and carry them rolled away. The coup, rather a botched job perpetrated by two drug addicts, does not make it difficult for the police, who soon identify and locate the perpetrators of the robbery, although not quickly enough to also find the paintings that have been taken.
This search leads Barbora to face one of the thieves in court, Karl-Bertil Nordland, a brilliant child until his mother, in the middle of a divorce, decides to leave with his sister and leave him in charge of his father. Covering his vulnerability with tattoos and anesthetizing his wounds with drugs, he ends up being a regular in Norwegian prisons. Thus begins a story of unlikely friendship, empathy and the redemptive power of art that director Benjamin Ree began to shoot after reading about it in the newspapers. Your movie, The painter and the thief, has become the revelation of the Atlàntida Festival 2020 from the Filmin platform, such as the most viewed title of this edition of the contest after standing out in January in the first cinematographic thermometer of the year, the Sundance Film Festival.
The filmmaker began to trace the story with little expectation, “I thought I could make an interesting documentary short film, about 10 minutes long,” he explains by phone. Without even having a defined theme, he decided to shoot what had happened with his camera, to silence some of the questions that assailed him: “Why did these two thieves take the works of an unknown artist for stealing? Where did they plan to sell them? Did you want to keep them? ”Benjamin Ree recalls aloud.
The issue of theft of works of art is not strange in Norway, where it is almost a tradition that the paintings of Edvard Munch, its national hero, disappear from museums and exhibition halls. The most famous case is that of the coveted The Scream, from which different versions have been subtracted over the years. “I thought that contrast between the beauty of art and the felony of theft would give a fascinating point to the story,” says Ree, who came across a story with almost as many psychological twists and turns as Munch’s masterpiece, which made him wonder still more questions. By following up on the headlines she had read, she discovered that Barbora had been fascinated by Bertil during the trial she attended to ask why he had stolen his paintings. He explained that he knew them from before, because he had seen them in the window of the art gallery during his street adventures. “I took them because I found them beautiful,” she replied, giving birth with her naivety to an unexpected platonic relationship.
The painter, used to looking at the world from unusual perspectives to capture on canvas, offered the thief to pose for her. He, eager to pay the debt of some paintings unable to recover, accepted. Benjamin Ree began filming in the room of those encounters, when one and the other were still in the process of meeting. From that moment and for more than three years he continued to document the birth of their friendship. The three of them were carried away to see where this double portrait led them. “When you direct a fiction film, you do it from a previous script, but when you direct a documentary you take control at the end, in the editing room. Before that, you face uncertainty ”, highlights the documentary maker. One of the certainties that kept him rolling was the moment when Bertil, a man with a childhood wound difficult to repair, broke down in tears when he saw the result of the first of the portraits that Barbora made of him and check the distance between the perception that he keeps of himself and that of another person. “After that moment, I knew that they trusted me and that I could trust their spontaneity,” says the director now.
Barbora narrates aloud in off, with his own words and his own gaze, Bertil’s life vicissitudes and he does the same with those of his new friend. “Although she does not realize it, I am also able to see inside her”, confesses the thief in his description of the painter. Both attend to the battles of the other, the fight to stand out in the art world or to stay sober. Of the 10 minutes planned, The painter and the thief extends to more than 100 to delve into the reasons, not always altruistic, why we keep others in our lives and the way in which we give back what those others give us.