When it comes to black and white films in the modern era, especially dealing with subjects relating to World War II, we often hark back to the 1993 classic Schindler’s List. Though the film was a bit dressed up for the subject it was portraying, it was a beautiful yet necessary portrayal of hard times.
Which leads us to The Painted Bird, a new War Drama from Writer/Director Václav Marhoul (Tobruk 2008, Smart Philip 2003). Opening in select theaters and Digital/VOD on Friday, July 17th via IFC Films, it is adapted from the Jerzy Kosinski novel of the same name. Set during the same historical time period as Schindler’s List, The Painted Bird tells the story of a young boy named Joska (Petr Kotlár). Taken to the countryside to live with his aunt in order to save him from the extermination of the Jews, unexpectedly she dies. A tragic turn of events, he is forced to journey by himself into unknown territory filled with hatred, fear, and violence.
It must be said, for those that enjoy films of this type, The Painted Bird is not like Schindler’s List in the slightest. Stripping back all the usual dressings of period Drama films, it is a raw depiction of the events that happened during that time. Potent and visceral, many of the scenes within the film are traumatic to watch, but historically necessary to get the point across. Some might even say that the story is too much to withstand in one sitting, and they are right in some cases. However, Marhoul intentionally makes this uncomfortable to watch for the right reasons. Those reasons are to provide you a journey in hope that there will be something rewarding to gain in the end, and in a way, it succeeds to a certain degree.
Furthermore, The Painted Bird is not your average survival tale. It is a quest of triumph and courage at a young age to withstand adversity, while at the same time, struggling to combat inner demons and a battle for the future. It is more than just a painful story though, but a living and breathing metaphor for all the hatred and violence that is inflicted on those who differ from one another. In many ways, what you observe is similar to the racial and religious intolerance experienced in modern times; something which is alarmingly uncomfortable that despite the time gap, not much has really changed.
On the creative end, the film does a brilliant job of using its title and Joska simultaneously within the plot. That is because The Painted Bird stands for the many different roles Joska has to play for the people he stays with to save his own life. Each one gives him a name, because no one bothers to find out who he is until the very end. Throughout it all, Joska befriends animals which is symbolic of his overall understanding. Sadly, each time one of the animals are taken away from him, there is silence, and much like the violence he withstands, it falls upon deaf ears. A graphic display of cruelty, it is used rather impressively in a way that shows animals and people are not any different, because each violent act is mirroring itself.
Engagingly scripted with spellbinding style, The Painted Bird is a shocking film that goes above and beyond to show the horrors of war and intolerance that manifest. For those that enjoy historically organic War Drama films, this is a must watch, and that is why Cryptic Rock give it 4 out of 5 stars.