Each village had its sorcerer or his witch, each prince had his astrologer.
Extensive film by Václav Marhoul. Very crude representation for the protagonist child Joska (Petr Kotlár) and any viewer, perhaps more than The Painted Bird (1965), the novel by Jerzy Kosinski (1933-1991) that inspired and gave it its name. With Udo Kier, Stellan Skarsgard, Harvey Keitel, Julian Sands, Barry Pepper… among many others, it is a masterpiece of the seventh art.
The violence with which The Painted Bird begins (2019), the most recent feature film by czech Václav Marhoul (Tobruk, Mazano Filip), is not comparable to what awaits the boy protagonist of this plot shot entirely in black and white.
A lover of animals of bad omen and treated as such, the Jewish boy Joska (Petr Kotlár) is passing through in a huraño and rustic village. The village carries manifest dogmas. He favors ancestral beliefs concerning the most trivial and tribal evil of what contemporaneity can no longer suspect. A plane in the sky lets you see a cross. The viewer finds it easy to know the historical period in which the story takes place: World War II. Czechoslovakia is occupied by the Germans, who considered them almost entirely inferior people. While they wanted and managed to exterminate many Jews such as Gypsies, Poles and Serbs, the vision of witchcraft and the demonic in this rural context is a drag not so much from the Middle Ages as it is from the Modern Age. The approach to be established between the latter and the first is spooky, especially as the war contest unfortunately understands and surpasses the Holocaust.
Another matter to attend to would be the relationships established in rigor on the basis of provocation, when not the scare of the characters with different animals: weasel, dogs, horses, cats, snake… The moment the crows approach to sting the head of the buried child, the cats trying to eat the hollowed eyes of a visitor… the bird that, when painted by the old man, is rejected in mid-flight by its abbreviated species, such as the larger allegory, the weight of Joska. It is a world of dehumanization, where the insistence of fire as a sign of unchanging death in the burning of corpses, for example, cannot be overlooked. The savagery witnessed by the boy has not yet been confronted with the Jewish suppression by the Germans. Maybe because we’re not dealing with a Holocaust story, we’re dealing with World War II. The protagonist goes from one master to another, from one profession to the next and we hardly hear him speak. For the first time we hear him a few words when he decides to take care of a lame horse. He watches the world go and continues in his efforts to live, but without getting to sleep “the rapid dream of life”. She has to be much more than he’s experiencing.
The use of black and white to moderate the effects of the well-described violent scenes on several occasions, when not completed by the viewer’s imagination, increase the estetization of it, giving it an impressive monochrome plasticity. His director confessed: “Only in the dark can we see the light.” But at what cost in an account of abuse and loneliness, wandering and misunderstanding, xenophobia and rape, death and moral and physical decline? And yet what most encouraging portrait of love of life, of survival, from that protagonist who, despite the difficulties and constant mistreatment of others, seeks not to become contaminated with malice. To tell you the truth, it takes quite a while to defend yourself from excesses. Persistence has nothing to do with conformity. Physical and emotional deterioration has been taught to him. What child’s life does he lead? He is also asked for what he is still unable to offer. When he’s looking for a mother, he’s required to be a man. Ridiculing is another way to compromise existence. Joska says goodbye to innocence. Who have they turned him into?
With The Painted Bird the viewer becomes irritated more than once. But he is convinced that earthly misery and misfortune have more than one name. As for hope? Hope can be one, especially when it comes to sheltering the same and different human beings.