The material beauty, the formal compositions, the lustrous black-and-white shadows and light, the deep focus, and the wide-screen staging in Vaclav Marhoul’s stunning adaptation of Jerzy Kosiński’s controversial 1965 novel/memoir puts it on par—cinematographically speaking—with masterpieces of Soviet cinema like Andrei Rublev and Come and See. The story of one abandoned Jewish child’s (newcomer Petr Kotler) wanderings through the hell that was the Polish countryside during WWII, and his encounters with various Nazis, peasants, and fellow lost souls (played by a who’s who of international art-film stars, including Stellan Skarsgård, Harvey Keitel, Julian Sands, and Udo Kier, among others), is depicted with a force and a violence that will shake you to the core.
‘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… 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… It is entrancing all the way.’—Alex Godfrey, Empire