By: Lana K. Wilson-Combs
It takes a lot to sit through “The Painted Bird,”
the disturbing new movie from Czechoslovakian director and screenwriter Vaclav Marhoul.
“The Painted Bird” is adapted from Jerzy Kosiński’s 1965 novel of the same name.
Every single image of this nearly three-hour black-and-white Holocaust drama will grip and pierce your soul. If it doesn’t you may not have a soul.
“The Painted Bird” is set in Eastern Europe near the end of World War II and tells the harrowing story of a Jewish boy named Joska who is played by first-time actor Petr Kotlar. I doubt if you’ll witness a more forceful and amazing child performance on the big screen this year like the one Kotlar delivers here. And get this, he barely utters a word. The pain, sorrow and fear he conveys is palpable through his facial expressions.
After his parents leave Joska with his elderly aunt and she dies, Joska is forced to go it alone and survive as best he can. Yet as the movie progresses through various chapters, it centers on people he meets along the way. Many of them are downright despicable and you wonder just how much this kid can possibly endure.
He becomes a slave to a faith healer who insists Joska is an evil vampire and he buries him in mud up to his neck and leaves him out for vultures to peck his head.
As bad as that is, it may be the tamest torture—if there is such a thing-- that Joska endures. His next stop has him in the home of a drunken and jealous old man (Udo Kier) and his younger wife. When the old man suspects his wife is flirting with the hired help, he plucks the guy’s eye’s out with a spoon and lets them fall on the floor for his cats to eat.
Joska also is subjected to a sex-crazed woman who seduces him and other young boys until she is brutally attacked by the boy’s parents. The kid cannot unsee a young woman’s sexual fetish involving an animal.
“The Painted Bird” becomes a bit weighed down with a few other divergent storylines that feature Harvey Keitel (“The Irishman”) as a kind-hearted priest until he introduces Joska to a pedophile (Julian Sands, TV’s “What/If”).
Just when it seems that Joska can’t catch a break, he meets Hans (Stellan Skarsgaard, “Mama Mia! Here We Go Again”), a compassionate German soldier, who despite orders to kill the boy, allows him to run away freely. Joska then meets Mitka, (Barry Pepper, “Crawl”), a Russian sniper who takes time and talks to the kid. That encounter proves to be time well spent and what Joska takes from it comes in handy when he gets revenge on someone who wrongs him.
I can’t say that “The Painted Bird” has a happy ending, but Joska does reunite with his father.
Despite the brutal, sadistic violence in “The Painted Bird,” it is a profound cinematic achievement. It’s not for everyone. In fact, it’s been reported that when “The Painted Bird” screened at the Venice and Toronto Film Festivals several people walked out.
However, if you see “The Painted Bird” you’ll never
Be sure to catch my N2Entertainment.net movie talk segment on the Kitty O'Neal Show Fridays now at 6:20 p.m. on radio station KFBK 1530 AM and 93.1 FM.
Check Out This Trailer For "THE PAINTED BIRD"
Lana K. Wilson-Combs is a member of The Broadcast Film Critics’ Association (BFCA), The Black Film Critics Circle (BFCC), The Alliance Of Women Film Journalists (AWFJ) and a Nominating Committee Voting Member for the NAACP Image Awards.