Painter and the Thief, The (2020): Norwegian Docu about an Unlikely Friendship

Benjamin ReeThe Painter and the Thief, a Norwegian documentary about an unlikely bond between two individuals.

Barbora Kysilkova last year in her studio
Barbora Kysilkova last year in her studio

The film world premiered at the 2020 Sundance Film Fest, where it won the World Cinema Documentary Special Jury Award for Creative Storytelling.

It was released in the US on May 22, 2020, by Neon.

The film follows Barbora Kysilkova, an artist, forming a friendship with Karl Bertil-Nordland, a man who stole her artwork.

Full of twists and turns like a fictional narrative, this docu is set in Oslo, in 2015, where Barbora Kysilkova, a Czech expat artist, has two of her hyperrealist paintings stolen from a gallery in broad daylight.

The paintings, worth €20,000, aren’t recovered, but the two thieves are caught. Yet when Barbora confronts one of them in court, she becomes intrigued.


Unlikely pair ... Karl Bertil-Nordland and Barbora Kysilkova in The Painter and the Thief.

Unlikely pair … Karl Bertil-Nordland and Barbora Kysilkova in The Painter and the Thief. Photograph: Barbora Kysilkova/AP

How did it happen? The theft was reported on the news as a heist by master criminals, but the thieves failed to spot CCTV cameras and they were soon caught and arrested
A product of  traumatic childhood, Karl Bertil-Nordland is a tattooed drug addict with ADHD. But he can be also funny, sad, and strange, as when he claims that he stole her paintings because he found them beautiful.
Surprisingly, the artist invited him to pose for a portrait – after he got out of prison.  In her studio, while painting Norland, Kysilkova interrogates him about her missing paintings. He insists he can’t remember what he did with them; he was totally wasted at the time. Norland is intelligent and charismatic and he is not afraid to show his feelings.

There’s an extraordinary moment when he sees Kysilkova’s portrait of him for the first time. Overwhelmed with emotion, he weeps, and while trembling, he says: “Finally, I have been seen.”

It took four years to shoot the docu, which might explain why it is so intimate and profound.  “She sees me very well, but she forgets I can see her too,” says Nordland, while talking about Kysilkova’s attraction to his dark side; it is revealed that in the past, she had almost experienced a violent relationship.

Later in the docu, Kysilkova’s boyfriend Øystein joins in. In therapy sessions, he worries about her, describing her tendency to take emotional risks.

Among the feature novel’s ideas is the gender reversal, showing how a male muse inspires a female painter.


Barbara Kysilkova
Karl Bertil-Nordland
Øystein Stene