By equal turns horrifying and beautiful, The Painted Bird sees Czech filmmaker Václav Marhoul put a young boy through every manner of evil that 1940s Eastern Europe can conjure in this war-torn vision of hell.
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“Biblical-grade horror show The Painted Bird begins with a young boy being chased, beaten and forced to watch while his pet ferret is urinated on, set on fire and burned to death, and it gets increasingly gruesome from there... There is little mercy in this unspooling odyssey of debasement and degradation, a beautifully shot nightmare presenting the very worst of mankind.
Based on Polish-American Jerzy Kosiński’s 1965 novel, it is extraordinarily adapted and directed by the Czech Republic’s Václav Marhoul... There is no score and no sentimentality, Marhoul presenting a still, studied God’s-eye view which keeps us at bay while making the experience all the more bracing...
It is a beautiful piece of work. Vladimír Smutný is a multi-award-winning cinematographer, and you can see why – this is an utterly gorgeous, black-and-white 35mm film, with lyrical shots and flawless use of light and shadows. The film is full of incredible faces, and Smutný worships them. Never have Udo Kier’s eyes been so hypnotic.
...The film is populated with star turns from some of the world’s finest character actors: as well as Udo Kier’s über-sadist, Harvey Keitel, Julian Sands, Stellan Skarsgård and Barry Pepper all provide showstopping but nuanced performances...
For all the horror, the film feels vital. The Painted Bird shames the human race, but the glimmers of hope, the glints of goodness that break through, are startling... By the time it’s done, the pile-on feels warranted. And throughout the whole thing, somehow, there is godlike grace. It is entrancing all the way.” — Alex Godfrey, Empire