This radiant WWII drama is both watchable and unwatchable.
“The Painted Bird” is one of the most beautifully photographed and graphic WWII movies I’ve ever seen, and I commend screenplay writer/director Vaclav Marhoul for painting it like a portrait. Filmed in black and white, the movie shows us the beauty of nature, and the violence that emerges within the drama.
It also introduces us to a little Jewish boy named Joska (Petr Kotlar), who experiences the war in Eastern Europe, while being physically and sexually abused by various characters. It’s a brutal journey for him, and it makes you queasy, at times, but we still have to keep watching to support the boy all the way through.
Joska was sent to live with his aunt, who suddenly dies. After that, he embarks on a journey to find his real home, and he encounters one stranger after another. Most of them are horrible, satanic people, including an abusive miller (Udo Kier), a bird breeder (Lech Dyblik), a pedophile posing as a saint (Julian Sands), and a nymphomaniac (Julia Virdrnakova). And only a few are kind to him, including the miller’s long-suffering wife (Michaela Dolezalova), a kinder German officer (Stellan Skarsgard), and a terminally ill priest (Harvey Keitel).
I have to warn you for those of you with a delicate constitution that the movie does feature unwatchable images. A ferret gets burned alive, the miller gauges a man’s eyeballs out, the boy gets buried in the ground with crows nipping at his head, Jewish victims get shot to death, the bird breeder paints on a bird so it can get pulverized by other birds, the boy becomes a victim of sexual abuse, and need I say more?
It’s horrifying, it’s evil, and it’s blasphemy. This kid takes crap from one monster after another, and each time, we’re sad to view his misery. And we’re also disturbed to see these images. Yet, Vaclav Marhoul has the courage to show us these scenes.
I also admire how the black and white scope matches the tone and consistency of the movie. The rivers, forests, animals, people, blood, birds, and houses all look fascinating; and the cinematography by Vladimir Smutny makes them look crystal clear. Colors are not always necessary, and we’re able to view everything in the movie.
Based on Jerry Kosinski’s 1965 novel, “The Painted Bird” ranks with “Schindler’s List” and “Son of Saul” by representing the horrors of the war with its violent images, screams of torture, and one main protagonist experiencing them. In this case, we see it through the perspectives of a boy. Petr Kotlar is a natural as him in the ways he doesn’t express much words, but use his dispositions and tears on a sentimental pace.
Those of you won’t want to see this movie, because of the gruesome images and abusive nature, and I respect that 100%. But it’s also a near masterpiece about one boy’s perspectives of the horrors of war. And it’s certainly much more effective than Tom Hank’s recent WWII entry “Greyhound.”
Available on Google Play and Amazon Prime