2020 Sundance Docs in Focus: THE PAINTER AND THE THIEF

THE PAINTER AND THE THIEF | Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Benjamin Ree

Benjamin Ree constructs a dual portrait of an artist and the thief who stole her art but becomes her friend.

Festival Section:
World Cinema Documentary Competition


Sundance Program Description:

When two paintings by Czech naturalist Barbora Kysilkova are stolen from an Oslo art gallery, Norwegian authorities quickly identify and arrest the two thieves but find no trace of the paintings. Hoping to learn what happened, Barbora approaches one of the thieves, Karl-Bertil Nordland, at his criminal hearing. She asks if she can paint his portrait and, contrite, he agrees. What follows – over a series of portraits and many years – is an extraordinary story of human connection and friendship.

Using a structure that cleverly shifts perspectives, Norwegian filmmaker Benjamin Ree unfolds the fraught lives and vulnerabilities of two souls who come to recognize themselves in the other – the darkness, wounds, compulsions, and self-destructive behavior. Ree captures the revelatory moment when Bertil, a junkie and petty crook who has done jail time, first sees his portrait and breaks down completely. Throughout the film, our understanding of both people – and even the stolen paintings – changes entirely. In life, certain aspects of human nature defy comprehension, and yet Ree materializes them in a way that is accessible and transcendent.

Some Background:


  • Benjamin Ree

    Norwegian filmmaker Ree’s sophomore feature, following 2016’s Tribeca-debuting MAGNUS, marks his first film at Sundance – the first Norwegian documentary feature to screen at the festival.


  • Ingvil Giske

    This is also the first Sundance credit for Medieoperatørene’s Giske. Her previous projects have screened at notable fests including IDFA, CPH:DOX, Sheffield, and Göteborg.


  • Robert Stengård

    Stengård has cut several of Giske’s previous documentaries. This also is his Sundance debut.

Why You Should Watch:
Ree has found two unlikely protagonists who are willing to be unusually open with one another – and the camera – resulting in an affecting and unexpected look at artistic process and collaboration. The doc will premiere as one of this year’s Day One screenings.

More Info:
Sundance’s Meet the Artist Profile

For Sundance screening dates and times, click the film title in the first paragraph.

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Filed under Documentary, Film, Film Festivals, Recommendations, Sundance

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