The Neon documentary The Painter and the Thief begins with a surprising “meet cute.” After two paintings are stolen from artist Barbora Kysilkova in Oslo, Norway, she encounters one of the suspected thieves in court. Instead of feeling angry at the accused, Karl-Bertil Nordland, he excites her compassion, and an unlikely friendship develops between them.
Director Benjamin Ree thought that unusual scenario might make for a short film. But his idea expanded once Kysilkova unveiled a portrait she had painted of Nordland.
“Everything changed from the reaction Karl-Bertil had to that painting being shown to him and I thought we just have to continue filming these two people,” Ree recalls during his film’s panel at Deadline’s Contenders Documentary award-season event. “They’re so open, they have kind of the heart on their outside.”
The documentary became a stunning portrait itself of a complex relationship where a broken man found acceptance from a person he had wronged. Getting to know Nordland was a risk she felt compelled to take, Kysilkova says.
“For me both as a person and as a painter or artist…it’s of course certainly obligatory to just open all your gates and windows,” she observes, “and just go to some undescribed or undiscovered paths and see what happens as you walk on that path.”
“For me the film is about what do we humans do in order to be seen and appreciated and what it takes for us to see others and appreciate others,” Ree says. “Those two questions are kind of the main driving motor in the film.”
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