Quantcast
Channel: Good Efficient Butchery
Viewing all articles
Browse latest Browse all 1212

On VOD: THE PAINTED BIRD (2020)

0
0

THE PAINTED BIRD
(Czech Republic/Ukraine/Slovakia - 2020)

Written and directed by Vaclav Marhoul. Cast: Petr Kotlar, Udo Kier, Stellan Skarsgard, Harvey Keitel, Julian Sands, Julia Valentova Vidrnakova, Aleksey Kravchenko, Barry Pepper, Petr Vanek, Nina Shunevych, Alla Sokolova, Michaela Dolezalova, Zdenek Pecha, Lech Dyblik, Jitka Cvankarova, Milan Simacek, Petr Klimes, Andrej Polak, Filip Kankovsky. (Unrated, 170 mins)

Based on the 1965 novel by Being There author Jerzy Kosinski, THE PAINTED BIRD is an unrelentingly grim, grueling, three-hour journey into the abyss, seen through the eyes of a young, nameless Jewish orphan (Petr Kotlar) left on his own in the rural hellscape of Eastern Europe during WWII. You know Czech writer/director Vaclav Marhoul isn't pulling any punches when it's barely three minutes in and the boy is attacked and beaten by other children, who then set his ferret on fire and watch it burn. His parents presumably perished in a concentration camp, he's been sent to live with his elderly Aunt Marta (Nina Shunevych), though he's left on his own once again when she dies and he's so startled by the discovery of her body that he drops a lantern, igniting a fire that quickly engulfs their small house. He makes his way to a gypsy camp where he's beaten by villagers who blame him for "bewitching the cows" and "summoning evil," and he's bought by a superstitious old crone (Alla Sokolova), who thinks he's a vampire. He escapes on a small raft and is found by the hired hand (Zdenek Pecha) of a bad-tempered miller (Udo Kier), who regularly beats his wife (Michaela Dolezalova) for making eye contact with the male help. The boy is off again after the miller, in a drunken rage, attacks the hired hand and gouges his eyes out with a spoon.






The horrific displays of cruelty, brutality and depravity never stop. He witnesses promiscuous temptress Ludmila (Jitka Cvankarova) being attacked by a group of mothers enraged over her corruption of their sons as they beat her to a pulp and violate her with a glass bottle. He encounters fields of dead Jews, some of their bodies charred and still smoldering, as their surviving brethren steal the clothes off of the unburned corpses. A German soldier shoots a crying Jewish baby point blank, the bullet also going through its mother, killing them both. The boy is captured by the residents of one village who turn him over to a German unit in a display of appeasement. The commander orders his execution, prompting one conscientious officer (Stellan Skarsgard) to volunteer for the task, waiting until they're far enough away from the camp to fire his rifle in the air and mercifully tell the boy to run away. He's captured by another German unit, but his life is spared when he's handed over to a Catholic priest (Harvey Keitel), who later sends the boy to live with distiller Garbos (Julian Sands), a devout parishioner who turns out to be a monstrous pedophile who rapes him nightly.





Shot in stark, monochromatic black-and-white, THE PAINTED BIRD is an undeniably tough sell even beyond its graphic content (it's unrated but well past the NC-17 threshold). It's just under three hours long, there's minimal dialogue, and it's spoken in the constructed Interslavic--an Esperanto-esque mix of various Slavic languages and dialects--with some incidental German and Russian, all with English subtitles. The most obvious influence here would be Elem Klimov's 1985 Soviet anti-war classic COME AND SEE, a film notorious for the ceaseless horrors faced by its young main character, played by a then-teenage Aleksey Kravchenko, who appears here as a Russian officer. Visually, THE PAINTED BIRD owes a lot to the works of Bela Tarr, particularly SATANTANGO and THE TURIN HORSE, and Aleksei German's mother-of-all-endurance-tests HARD TO BE A GOD. And with its numerous shocking wartime transgressions, one is reminded of Pier Paolo Pasolini's SALO, Volker Schlondorff's THE TIN DRUM, Liliana Cavani's LA PELLE/THE SKIN, and Bernardo Bertolucci's 1900, with one shot of the boy lying on the tracks as a train speeds over him coming straight from that 1977 pro-communism epic.





One might also think of Lars von Trier, especially with the presence of Kier and Skarsgard. But where von Trier would revel in getting as explicit as possible just to poke the viewer with a stick, Marhoul generally handles such incidents with a certain degree of tact, though even the most jaded connoisseur of arthouse transgression might get the wind knocked out of them a little during the vignette where the boy shacks up with a widowed nymphomaniac (Julia Valentova Vidrnakova). She teaches him how to perform oral sex on her but then loses interest when, still being a little boy, he's unable to perform when they attempt intercourse (Kotlar has two credited adult body doubles). Her resulting cold-shoulder treatment ("You're useless!") eventually sends him into a jealous rage when he catches her having sex with a goat. Young Kotlar, a non-professional in his first film, says very little over the course of THE PAINTED BIRD, with Marhoul letting his star's eyes and face do most of the emoting. The film was shot in several phases with some breaks over the 16-month period from March 2017 to July 2018, and a fortuitous growth spurt allows you to see Kotlar, nine years old when shooting began, visibly change over the course of the time depicted. Not just in height and build, but also the increasingly dead look in his eyes as the boy has conditioned himself to feel nothing.





Despite the non-stop horrors on display, THE PAINTED BIRD is a staggeringly beautiful film, where every shot could serve as a perfectly-framed still image. Cinematographer Vladimir Smutny vividly captures the desolate, barren wasteland of war-ravaged Eastern Europe in ways that are breathtaking. The known names in the cast have little more than cameos, but all of them leave impressions in their limited screen time--particularly Keitel as the tragically oblivious priest, who finally realizes what's going on when he pays a visit to Garbos and can sense the tension and see the abuse in the boy's eyes--though it is admittedly distracting having Keitel, Kier, and Sands dubbed in Interslavic by voices that sound nothing like theirs, plus Pepper speaking in dubbed Russian (Skarsgard has no dialogue), as is one action sequence appearing out of nowhere with one too-loudly-mixed Wilhelm Scream. THE PAINTED BIRD is bold, unflinching, and upsetting, and even with moments of light in its perpetual darkness (and a late glimmer of hope), it's the It's Not For Everybody/Feel-Bad Hit of the Summer, and regardless of how well-made it is--there were inevitable walkouts when it played the festival circuit last year--or how highly you regard it, you probably won't watch it a second time.


Director Vaclav Marhoul and star Petr Kotlar
on the set of THE PAINTED BIRD


Viewing all articles
Browse latest Browse all 1212

Latest Images

Trending Articles





Latest Images