Czech artist Barbora Kysilkova first met Norwegian drug addict and petty criminal Karl-Bertil Nordland in 2015 when he was on trial for stealing two of her paintings. In the dock, the heavily tattooed, feral-looking Nordland admitted that he had little memory of stealing her works from Oslo’s Galley Nobel, and had no idea where they were now – he was that high. Swan Song, a picture of two swans, and Chloe & Emma, one of two girls, could be anywhere.
He did, however, admit that he thought they were beautiful. While the crime was impulsive, he had looked through the gallery window at the paintings countless times. Hearing this, Kysilkova did the unthinkable: she asked Nordland to pose for her.
Directed by Benjamin Ree (Magnus), The Painter and the Thief is a genuinely sublime work of documentary filmmaking, and one that defies easy categorisation. It is vast, yet intimate; to mangle a paraphrase, it contains multitudes. Yes, it is a true crime story about a victim confronting a transgressor. Yes, it’s about the relationship between artist and muse, and about the potential for exploitative behaviour in either direction. It’s about crime and punishment, specifically the Norwegian model. And much more.