If there was one movie that made the most headlines among international cinephiles at last year’s Venice Film Festival and Toronto International Film Festival it was Václav Marhoul’s “The Painted Bird.” The black-and-white foreign-language drama is adapted from the novel of Jerzy Kosinski and tells the story of a boy who travels across Eastern Europe at the end of World War II and witnesses the horror and beauty of his changed homeland. The film is said to have caused walkouts at its festival screenings due to scenes of graphic violence, including one moment in which someone has their eyeballs gouged out. “The Painted Bird” was the Czech Republic’s official Oscar submission this year in the Best International Feature Film but missed out on a nomination.
Per IFC Films’ official synopsis, “The Painted Bird” follows “the journey of The Boy, entrusted by his persecuted parents to an elderly foster mother. The old woman soon dies and the Boy is on his own, wandering through the countryside, from village to village, farmhouse to farmhouse. As he struggles for survival, The Boy suffers through extraordinary brutality meted out by the ignorant, superstitious peasants and he witnesses the terrifying violence of the efficient, ruthless soldiers, both Russian and German.”
“The Painted Bird” is Václav Marhoul’s third directorial effort after “Smart Philip” and “Tobruk.” The cast includes newcomer Peter Kotlar as The Boy opposite Udo Kier, Julian Sands, Harvey Keitel, Barry Pepper, and Stellan Skarsgard. The movie’s violence and brutality has made it somewhat controversial on the festival circuit, but Kier told IndieWire last December that the extremities in “The Painted Bird” are reflective of the WWII time period.
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“I grew up like that boy,” Kier said of the film’s protagonist. “I was brought up in Germany, born in 1944, and there was nothing to eat. Until I was 16 or 17, we had no water. My mother had to cook water in a kettle, and once a week I was bathed, and that was it.”
IFC Films is opening “The Painted Bird” in theaters beginning April 17. Watch the official trailer for the harrowing drama in the video below.