Benjamin Ree: The Painter and the Thief

This fascinating film premiered at Sundance, is about to go into theatres in Sweden and Norway , and is in the Best Documentary Competition at Nordisk Panorama, that runs until September 27. It’s an amazing story with extraordinary characters with unusual personal backgrounds – it’s a thriller about stolen art, a psychological drama, a love story, shot over years , with characters that develop, to say the least, a dramaturgy that breaks rules, with several twists, it’s lovely off mainstream documentary storytelling. I was hooked from start till end.

It would be wrong of me to reveal totally, where the story goes, not so say where it ends. So, let me give you the starting point: Barbora, Czech painter living in Norway, has two of her paintings stolen from a gallery. One of the thiefs, Karl-Bertil, is identified via surveillance cameras, and in the courtroom the painter goes to the thief to ask if she may paint a portrait of him. They meet, she paints him, her style is photorealism – and the two builds up a strong emotional relationship. He is a drug addict, he can’t remember, where the stolen paintings went, they stay in contact, she helps him, he helps her; the story is told from the angles of them both. Barbora’s boyfriend, Øystein, who took her away from a violent relationship in Berlin, asks her why she is drawn to the destructive that Karl-Bertil represents, and if she is aware of the moral responsibility she takes helping him. The couple seeks therapy help. The un-chronologically told story gives the viewer surprising background information on Karl-Bertil, and the director of the film succeeds to paint (sorry!) a portrait of a man with many faces. Far from the usual “just another junkie”.

A film full of energetic scenes, touching, entertaining. Watch it!

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Tue Steen Müller
Tue Steen Müller

Müller, Tue Steen
Documentary Consultant and Critic, DENMARK

Worked with documentary films for more than 20 years at the Danish Film Board, as press officer, festival representative and film consultant/commissioner. Co-founder of Balticum Film and TV Festival, Filmkontakt Nord, Documentary of the EU and EDN (European Documentary Network).
Awards: 2004 the Danish Roos Prize for his contribution to the Danish and European documentary culture. 2006 an award for promoting Portuguese documentaries. 2014 he received the EDN Award “for an outstanding contribution to the development of the European documentary culture”. 2016 The Cross of the Knight of the Order for Merits to Lithuania. 2019 a Big Stamp at the 15th edition of ZagrebDox. 2021 receipt of the highest state decoration, Order of the Three Stars, Fourth Class, for the significant contribution to the development and promotion of Latvian documentary cinema outside Latvia. In 2022 he received an honorary award at DocsBarcelona’s 25th edition having served as organizer and programmer since the start of the festival.
From 1996 until 2005 he was the first director of EDN (European Documentary Network). From 2006 a freelance consultant and teacher in workshops like Ex Oriente, DocsBarcelona, Archidoc, Documentary Campus, Storydoc, Baltic Sea Forum, Black Sea DocStories, Caucadoc, CinéDOC Tbilisi, Docudays Kiev, Dealing With the Past Sarajevo FF as well as programme consultant for the festivals Magnificent7 in Belgrade, DOCSBarcelona, Verzio Budapest, Message2Man in St. Petersburg and DOKLeipzig. Teaches at the Zelig Documentary School in Bolzano Italy.

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