On April 20, 2015, two large oil paintings were stolen from Oslo’s Galleri Nobel. The story didn’t quite rise to the level of international news — the work was only valued at €20,000 — but it was nevertheless a life-fracturing moment for Barbora Kysilkova, a gifted yet struggling young Czech artist who poured her trauma into those photoreal canvases for safekeeping. Both of the culprits were apprehended just a few days later, but Kysilkova only cared that neither of the paintings were found; something invaluable had been taken from her, and returning two random junkies to an IKEA-crafted Norwegian jail wasn’t going to make up the difference. She needed those men to provide another painting. And so Kysilkova, professing “a sort of obligation to continue the story”, walked up to one of the suspects during his trial and asked an unexpected question: “I wonder if I could paint you?”
So begins Benjamin Ree’s nuanced and beguiling new documentary about the various things we all take from each other. The filmmaker followed the case even before it went to court, and was there in Kysilkova’s tiny studio to witness one of her first private sessions with Karl-Bertil Nordland. It’s a raw and loaded encounter in a frequently riveting movie that’s full of them, but Ree shoots the film with the probing composure of a scripted European drama (few documentaries make it so easy to imagine their narrative remakes).
Nordland is posing for Kysilkova, and both of them are posing for Ree’s camera. From the start, the filmmaker’s rigid style reflects a shared (but unspoken) awareness that the relationship between Kysilkova and Nordland will be a work of art unto itself, and perhaps even more valuable than anything else they make together.
Norway 2020, 107 minutes
Directed by Benjamin Ree