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  • Gareth Crook

The Painted Bird (2019) - 3/10

This is one of the most beautifully shot films I’ve seen this year. It’s also one of the most chilling films I’ve seen this year or any other. Joska (Petr Kotiár) is a young Jewish boy trying to survive WWII somewhere in Eastern Europe. I’m not sure where but it’s a Czech production filmed in Poland. It is brutal. I mean sucker punch to the heart in the opening scene brutal. He lives with his aunt, on a small farm in the remote wilderness. You can feel the cold, not just in the lack of colour or temperature, but the emotion. It’s barren. At least it is until the boy (he’s never properly introduced), accidentally burns it all the the ground upon discovering his aunt dead in the kitchen. Not that hard, all the structures are built of wood and straw. As films go, I really can’t think of any with such a devastating series of events in the opening quarter hour. It’s just keeps going that way too, leaving me quickly exhausted and wondering whether I should give in and watch some cute cat videos instead. It’s not an enlighten society. To say the least. The boy finds himself declared a vampire in league with the devil and run out of the village, under the new care of an old woman practicing as a witch doctor. It apparently caused a bit of a stir at festivals. I assume from audiences conflicted by the beautiful cinematography depicting such harsh human behaviour, but it might also be for the near constant graphic violence. Rape, suicide, animal cruelty. It’s very slow burning, shots linger and drift. The camera work really is breathtaking. It is quite gripping too, with some big names including Stellen Skarsgård, Udo Kier, Julian Sands, Harvey Keitel. I’m not sure I could recommend anyone watch it though. It’s too sad, too graphic, too painful as this poor young soul is subjected to all the very worst that mankind is capable. The tagline is ‘Light is visible only in the dark’. Honestly there’s very little light here. It’s the very epitome of bleak. Cruel and I think really quite unnecessary cinema. As beautiful as much of it looks, I just can’t get past its desolate world view. I really want to give it an 8 for the production, but…



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