Sitcoms have some standard jokes they love to revisit. One of the most popular is how someone has been forced to go to a film festival. This usually leads to the person being forced to watch a three hour long black and white foreign movie. Laughter ensues. The Painted Bird is a movie from the Czech Republic. It adapts a 1965 novel about a young boy trying to find his way home during World War II. Along the way, he encounters unspeakable horrors.
It is no surprise that a story about a boy suspected of being Jewish or a Gypsy during WWII would be violent. What is shocking is the brutality of The Painted Bird. Within moments, the audience is introduced to the horrible conditions people are living under. As the movie progresses, things continue to get worse for the boy. The Painted Bird is more than just an orgy of sexual degradation and exploitation. It examines in all too close detail how WWII affected those on the fringes. The film is a disturbing look at the depths humanity will sink to in the bleakest times.
The story is mesmerizing. Audiences will be unable to take their eyes off each ordeal the boy faces. (It received a ten minute standing ovation at the Warsaw Film Festival.) But it is also an incredibly difficult watch. (Festival goers walked out in Venice, Toronto, and London.) It is not as much about the quality of the film – it is great. The Painted Bird takes an unflinching look at life during wartime. As powerful as the boy’s journey is, what he goes through is exhausting to watch.
Filming in black and white was a great idea. The desolate settings look especially bleak and barren. Many movies have done an excellent job of depicting the horrors of war. Few movies have ever made it look so hopeless. Again, The Painted Bird puts on full display its bittersweet dichotomy. The picture is beautiful to look at, but what is being shown is terrifying.
The Painted Bird is a gorgeous film. It is filled with beauty and great performances. Mixed in is a tragic and nightmarish story that will constantly make audiences want to turn away. This constant push and pull drives the entire movie. This is a fantastic movie that challenges the audience to continue watching every step of the way. Those who make it through will be rewarded.