War is hell – it’s a universal truth that’s been seen time and again in everything from Paths of Glory and Saving Private Ryan to The Hurt Locker and Full Metal Jacket, and Václav Marhoul’s The Painted Bird once again plumbs the depths of human behaviour. Based on the bleak and brutal novel by Jerzy Kosinski, The Painted Bird is a full on descent into a barren hell.
We’re led through the movie through the eyes of a child Petr Kotlár, like in Elem Klimov’s Come and See whose central character is aged by the ravages of his experience before our very eyes. The child is silent throughout, an unfortunate leader through the pain and base action of humanity. The film doesn’t give you any easy answers and it would be hard to imagine many people jumping back in for a rewatch.
The Painted Bird has less of a plot, more a series of vignettes titled by the characters the child meets along his journey in pursuit of safety or home. Stretched to almost three hours, and filled with eye gouging, murder, bestiality, animal torture, abuse and violence, it’s heavy watching and certainly difficult for some to stomach. But the film draws you in with its slow moving camera that paints the scenes in a hauntingly beautiful black and white. By the time you crawl past the second hour mark your interest and patience may start to wane and any hope of light at the end of the tunnel starts to be extinguished.
This release has very few extras to speak of, only a picture gallery and making of, but after watching the film you might not want to delve any more into its dark world, but perhaps more about the novel adaption and the ideas and themes behind the story might have been appreciated.