director/writer: Benjamin Ree; cinematographers: Benjamin Ree, Kristoffer Kumar; editor: Robert Stengard; music: Uno Helmersson; cast: Barbora Kysilkova, Karl-‘Bertil’ Nordland, Øystein Stene (The Artist’s husband); Runtime: 102; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Ingvil Giske; NEON; 2020-Norway-in English & Norwegian, with English subtitles if needed)

It’s a strange documentary, where humanism, compassion, perspectives and the unexpected converge in a way that made for a most interesting narrative.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Norwegian documentary filmmaker Benjamin Ree (“Magnus”) helms this off-beat documentary about a Czech emigre struggling woman painter who had two valuable paintings stolen in Oslo by a heavily tattooed junkie career Norwegian thief.

In April of 2015, after relocating from Berlin, the artist Barbora Kysilkova’s two most valuable, large-format paintings, are stolen-in broad daylight from the windowfronts of the Galleri Nobel in Oslo’s city center. Two men are pinched for the crime when identified on the surveillance tape, but the paintings are not recovered. We are shown the surveillance footage taken from within the gallery. When the artist meets one of the thieves at the police station, she gets him to agree to pose for a portrait. The other thief’s story is not told, and he becomes a forgotten figure.

The film took over three years to make, as it followed the portrait drawing step-by-step and the relationship that developed between the painter and the thief over their affinity for art. We learn little about the court hearing or the verdict, as the film only follows this odd relationship. Also we are never given enough information to know why the artist wished to paint the subject. The two film subjects seem to be acting on instincts, and I can accept that as a reason.
The artist has a nice guy husband, Øystein Stene. And, she allows Ree’s to film them at a relationship counseling session. Evidently the couple need to patch up certain things about their marriage, maybe like doing some explaining after telling hubby she fell in love with the thief.

The story is unpredictable, as we’re left in the dark about what it’s leading up to. A meaningful moment was when Nordland saw the finished portrait for the first time and broke down in tears on how well the artist got into his head and brought out all the things he always tried to keep hidden about himself.

Ree and his editor Robert Stengård used a flexible structure that could shift backwards in time so that our perspective was always challenged.

It’s a strange documentary, where humanism, compassion, perspectives and the unexpected converge in a way that made for a most interesting narrative. The director has a background in journalism, and seems to have sniffed out an unusual story. But even if accepting that, I’m not sure if the viewer isn’t being manipulated by an artist who wanted to steal something back from a thief who stole two valuable possessions of hers and never returned them.