This review was originally published as part of our London Film Festival 2020 coverage.

The story could’ve been torn straight out of a Hitchcock thriller: two thieves break into a gallery and steal two pieces by a local artist. In court, the painter approaches one of the thieves and asks him why he did it. “Because they were beautiful,” he replies. Taken aback by this response, the painter asks the thief to pose for a portrait, and an extraordinary friendship begins.

As unlikely as it may sound, this is a true story—the painter is Barbora Kysilkova, the thief is Karl Bertil-Nordland, and their most unconventional friendship is the subject of Benjamin Ree’s disarmingly poignant new documentary. While the two initially seem like they’re oceans apart (“How can you understand a junkie who has been awake for four days?” Karl asks early on), it doesn’t take long before the barriers between them begin to fall.

The easy way out would’ve been to focus the story exclusively on Barbora, but Ree’s brilliant move is to dramatically shift us early on to Karl’s point of view. Through his eyes we see a much wider picture, one that takes in Karl’s childhood trauma and Barbora’s abusive ex-boyfriend. It is a deeply affecting story full of shocking twists, and for the large majority of the film Ree manages to balance both sides well.

Some cracks do begin to show during the second half, with Barbora’s financial and relationship troubles seemingly rather rushed past in the pursuit of a clean concluding note, but for the majority of the film, it is impossible not to be completely invested.

Ree will no doubt be the envy of the documentary world for stumbling upon such a unique story, but it is through his largely air-tight structuring that this story truly reveals itself and a friendship flourishes. It’s not often you’d recommend bringing tissues to a documentary.



CAST: Barbora Kysilkova, Karl Bertil-Nordland, Øystein Stene

DIRECTOR: Benjamin Ree

SYNOPSIS: In the most unusual of circumstances, a painter and a criminal strike up a remarkable friendship.