Holocaust Drama ‘The Painted Bird’ Lands at IFC Following Controversial Festival Run and Mass Walkouts

The Václav Marhoul film prompted audiences walkouts at both Venice and TIFF, which didn't deter the Czech Republic from selecting it as its Oscar contender.
'The Painted Bird': IFC Films Picks Up Controversial Holocaust Drama
"The Painted Bird"
IFC Films

IFC Films is no stranger to controversial films or awards contenders, and the distributor’s latest acquisition handily ticks both of those boxes. The home of such films as “Boyhood” and “Phoenix” has picked up the U.S. rights to Václav Marhoul’s controversial Holocaust drama, which recently prompted mass audience walkouts during its screenings at both Venice and TIFF. The film, the first ever made in the “invented” Interslavic language, has already been selected as the Czech Republic’s Oscar selection for the Best International Feature Film.

Based on the acclaimed novel by Jerzy Kosinski, the film took Marhoul over a decade to make and is billed as “a meticulous 35mm black and white evocation of wild, primitive Eastern Europe at the bloody close of World War II. The film 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 film stars Petr Kotlár, Udo Kier, Lech Dyblik, Jitka Čvančarová, Stellan Skarsgard, Harvey Keitel, Julian Sands, Aleksey Kravchenko, and Barry Pepper. “The Painted Bird” had its world premiere at the 2019 Venice International Film Festival then went on to screen at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival in the Special Presentations section.

When the film debuted at Venice last month, its brutal depictions of violence, from rape to pedophilia to gruesome disfiguration, prompted mass audience walkouts. When it arrived in Toronto days later, the result was the same. Yet the film has earned glowing reviews for its faithful depiction of the many horrors that occur in Kosinski’s source material and it currently holds an 85 percent fresh rating on review aggregate Rotten Tomatoes.

In an official statement, Arianna Bocco EVP of Acquisitions and Productions of IFC Films said, “‘The Painted Bird’ is a brilliant cinematic achievement with a fiercely accomplished cast to match. We’re incredibly proud to bring such a monumental film to audiences across the country.” Marhoul added in his own statement, “I am extremely gratified that IFC has acquired ‘The Painted Bird.’ They have demonstrated a deep, sensitive understanding of the message of the movie, which is so important in today’s volatile world. I deeply believe the movie’s advocacy of tolerance, fellow-feeling and community must reach American audiences. IFC will make that happen.”

It’s hardly the first time IFC Films has picked up a controversial festival title: last year, the distributor released Lars von Trier’s Cannes contender “The House That Jack Built,” including a buzzy director’s cut version of the serial killer drama that ticked off the MPAA.

IFC Films will release “The Painted Bird” in theaters sometime in 2020.

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