This concept drives the two sequences in the film I like even more. At separate times, Bertil is described by Barbora, and vice versa. Hearing someone who was a relative stranger pick out someone else’s interesting traits is fascinating on its own but then add to that the layer of the filmmaker—director Benjamin Ree is the one choosing the images on the screen. For example, Bertil speaks of the importance of the day that Barbora saw a man die when she was a child and Ree chooses the image of a body under a sheet in the street. It is Barbora’s memory described by Bertil and visually interpreted by Ree. I could have watched this for hours. I love the parts of “The Painter and the Thief” that dig into the concept of interpretation and how the way other people see us influences the way we see ourselves.
“The Painter and the Thief” begins with a brazen, daylight robbery. Two men, openly caught on security camera footage, break into a gallery and steal two paintings by Barbora Kysilkova. One of the men, Karl-Bertil, is caught and tried. At the hearing, Barbora works up the courage to speak to him, asking if they can talk outside of the legal proceeding, and quickly thereafter asking if she can paint him. As he sits in her apartment, they talk about their lives and become friends. Bertil claims to not remember a thing about that day. He took one painting; his buddy took the other. A severe drug addict who had been awake for four days and was looking for his next high, he doesn’t even remember what he did with the painting.
It’s hard to say if it’s a product of the editing or a credit to her character, but Barbora seems to give up fairly quickly on finding out what happened to her work. This is not that movie. This is a movie about a damaged soul having someone to talk to and the friendship that forms between the two of them. Over years, Ree returns to this pair for major events in their lives, including a horrible car accident that nearly kills Bertil. Barbora’s partner suggests at one point that she likes danger, a product of abusive relationships in her past, and there’s something about a tattoo-covered criminal junkie that simply attracts her like a kid who likes to play in traffic.