The Painted Bird (2019) Analysis – Power of Imagery Surpasses Sorcery


Religion and War have been the only radical evil that have screwed humanity from time to time. We are trying to make peace with one, or the other but still are dreadfully defeated by it, unsure whether the religion ignites the war or war is fueled by religion. The Painted Bird, an adaptation of a conversational novel by Jerzy Kosinki centers around an unrelenting story of the sufferings of a young boy wandering the blasted landscape of World-War-II-riven Central Europe. 

Directed by Czech actor/filmmaker Václav Marhoul, The Painted Bird is a visual treat to the audience who wants to experience the power and influence of images without words. A lot of distinctively designed and shot scenes look fresh and deliver emotions that haven’t been seen before, even when the tale of war and religion have been told earlier. The Painted Bird accomplishes all stanzas of film language, or the checklist a film should really work on, to speak louder through images, and hence requires the same sensibility and intellect from the audience.

The Story

The Painted Bird moves like a sequence of events in the young boy’s life and each section is named after the person, under whose care the protagonist falls.

At the beginning of the film, the boy is put under the care of an old woman, Marta, who lives in a cottage, and shares a kind of anonymous relationship. The young boy is bullied by the kids from the neighbor, while he tries his best to survive. Suddenly, one day, he finds Martha dead and in shock, burns down the cottage by mistake.

The boy is then taken up as a slave, by an Olga, who tells the villagers that the boy is possessed by an evil and holds no good. Suddenly, an aircraft passes in the sky above, to demonstrate the backwards of these Central European villages and their barbaric withstanding. Olga buries the kid, up to his neck and lets the crows peck him to cure him of his devilish possessiveness, while he runs away and lands at the home of a miller, an insecure man who thinks his wife is cheating on him with a stable-master. At the house of the miller, the boy witnesses one of the most gruesome yet striking scenes of the film that gives you goosebumps at the end of it, and if it is one of those visuals, that defines the power of images, without words.

The trail of suffering in the boy’s life keeps on testing his mental stability and emotional sanity with each new caretaker, making it more tortuous than the previous one, until the boy finally finds his way back home.

Power of Imagery Surpasses Sorcery

Filmmaker Václav Marhoul through his masterly crafted film, has stamped a blunt comment on the malpractices of religion and the errors of war.  Through this young boy, he has shown the horrors of backward Religion and the introduction of Nazi Army in Central Europe, both of which have brought only misery to the people. Some of these images, picturised in the film, are hideous but they are so moving that you can’t really stop thinking about them. They leave an everlasting impact, which primarily gives you goosebumps and later an emotional footprint for as far your memory can hold this image. Everytime the essence of those pictures remain the same, and that describes the sheer brilliance of a filmmaker and his Cinematographer.

The dialogues used are close to minimal in the film, and not much of it was required either, as many of the visuals are loud and audible enough. When the director takes you on the journey, you feel so connected with the boy’s innocence and his misery, that you either wish to weep for him, or ask him to weep, so as to ease some of his pain. But he doesn’t shed tears, and I as an audience, feel concerned about what kind of regressive impact, Religion and War has left on our young generation, that wouldn’t just vanish so easily when they grew up. It wouldn’t be wrong to say, That through religion and war, we fuel more violence and trauma in the world, than through any other measure.

Václav Marhoul has integrated an excellent cast in the film that blends well with the narrative but still the movie belongs to child actor Petr Kotlár as the boy. It’s difficult to assess the specifics of his often stoic performance as such. His performance gives you nostalgia for Jean-Pierre Léaud’s laudable act in The 400 blows, and he surely deserves to be awarded for it.

Shot in black and white, The Painted Bird is still rich in vibrance because of its explicit composition. It sure feels like a painting sometimes, exhibiting the horrors of humanity to a young boy. Anyone who admires the visual power of cinema and wishes to experience the images never seen, The Painted Bird is a must watch for them. For the audience, who wish to be entertained, there isn’t much in store in this more than 2 and a half hour film, shot as an anthology. I urge the students of Cinema and Cinephiles to really go through to have an experience of a lifetime.

The Painted Bird is a war drama film written, directed and produced by Václav Marhoul released in the year 2019. It is the first feature film that is made in the Interslavic Language. The film is based on the Jerzy Kosiński’s novel of the same name. The Painted Bird is available for Video on Demand.

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Shikhar Agrawal
Shikhar Agrawal
I am an Onstage Dramatist and a Screenwriter. I have been working in the Indian Film Industry for the past 12 years, writing dialogues for various films and television shows.

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