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The Crack Magazine


The Painted Bird

Director: Václav Marhoul

Stars: Petr Kotlár, Harvey Keitel, Stellan Skarsgård, Udo Kier, Barry Pepper

Czech director Marhoul’s first film in twelve years (his third film in all) is a harrowing and relentlessly grim three-hour long adaptation of Jerzy Kosiński’s controversial 1965 novel. Non-professional lead Kotlár is impressive as ‘The Boy’ who, after being separated from his Jewish parents, treks across an unspecified East European country in the closing days of WW2, encountering cruelty and abuse at every turn, with only very rare demonstrations of compassion from a kindly priest (Keitel) and a weary Nazi soldier (Skarsgård). Beautifully crisp black and white photography aside, this is an unflinching depiction of the dehumanising effects of war, destined to be spoken of in the same breath as Elem Klimov’s horrific masterpiece ‘Come and See’. Eventually, and perhaps deliberately, the relentless parade of beatings, mutilations and sexual abuse result in a kind of emotional numbness on the audience’s part. Occasionally, some sequences seem so excessively lurid – particularly one involving Udo Kier’s psychotic miller, some stray eyeballs and a cat – it feels like an extremely dark parody of European arthouse at its most wretchedly miserable.