Movie Review – The Painter and the Thief (2020)

JulieGAugust 2, 202180/1006 min
Year of Release
Sundance Film Festival
1h 46min
Overall Score
Rating Summary

The Painter and the Thief debuted at Sundance 2020. The title is a bit misleading in a way because it sounds like it could be fictional, but it’s not. It’s actually a documentary about a female painter (Barbora Kysilkova) living in Norway. We think she is a “realist” painter. Her paintings look very close to real life. And in some moments, you can’t even tell the difference because they look that good. And she painted two particular paintings. One painting was of two kids. The other painting, which was absolutely amazing, was called “Swan Song” and it was a painting of a dead swan. And she had them displayed in a gallery in Norway. And then one day, they were stolen.

The artist had the footage of the two thieves stealing it, and obviously, they both get caught, but the paintings are nowhere to be found. And the remainder of the film is about the artist’s journey and becoming friends with one of the thieves. It’s also about how she tries to figure out where the paintings are while following this thief’s journey as well. This is a remarkable documentary in that respect.

The Painter and the Thief is one of the first documentaries I’ve seen about art where you see two very different views of an event that impacted both people involved. It wasn’t just the thief stealing from her. It’s also about his journey from that moment, what made him do what he did. And the more you see, the more you kind of understand where he was coming from as the person that stole these paintings. His motives, not only why he did it. It was like he was drawn to the paintings in some way.


A lot of her paintings are quite sad and dark. It was definitely a huge thing for her to figure out or try and have this thief explain why they decided to steal the paintings and what they’ve done with the paintings. And then you discover his life is just one tragic event after another. The documentary doesn’t paint him in a positive light in any way. That is entirely up to you to decide what you think of him. Towards the end, you feel sorry for him. Her journey of letting someone in and letting go of losing the paintings and that part of her life. This was an important theme of the documentary – to see how this event changed and impacted them in so many different ways. It’s profound.

Unless you are an artist, it isn’t easy to understand the connection between a painter and what they create. Or for anyone that makes something that they create. You know, you think it’s just a piece of art, and it’s just a painting on a wall, but it really is a lot more than what most people can appreciate. This documentary provides you with a different understanding of the connection between a painter and what they create. I was hoping she would ask him if these paintings weren’t the same ones being displayed at the time, would he still have stolen them? I think in a non-direct way, that question is answered by the thief without really realising it. And that’s quite tragic and beautiful all at the same time.


Freelance entertainment writer and reviewer. Visit my blog on

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