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The Painted Bird
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Jerzy Kosiński Adaptation Is Gruesome, Poetic Epic of Inhumanity

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An epic pastoral horror pitting human savagery towards the not possible calm of nature, Czech filmmaker Václav Marhoul’s adaptation of Polish writer Jerzy Kosiński’s rattling World Conflict II novel “The Painted Chicken” is as daring a play for visceral cinema mastery as we’ve seen of late.

Premiering on the Venice Movie Pageant to the type of emotional reactions (walkouts, raves) that may cement a troubling work’s need-to-see popularity, this black-and-white, almost three-hour saga of a boy (nonprofessional Petr Kotlár, in a shocking flip) navigating the cruelties and caprices of ravaged rural Japanese Europe isn’t the wallowing miserablist parade you would possibly worry, but not fairly the Holocaust-themed masterpiece it needs to be. However it’s at all times starkly compelling as a reminder of why conflict survival tales are important to our understanding of innocence and beastliness.

Kosiński’s 1965 e book was a litmus take a look at of types, first for the unvarnished brutality inside its pages (killings, rape, torture, bestiality). Later it was found to be an ambiguously sourced work that fused the autobiographical and imagined. However what has remained throughout the fraught historical past of its strategy and authorship is its narrative energy as a wartime story, instructed as a fractured fable through which peril reigns and morals are absent.

Marhoul’s movie isn’t shy in regards to the regular stream of ugliness, and that’s more likely to flip away the terror-sensitive, and but its immersive aesthetic additionally permits for the visually poetic and compassionate, even when these moments are few and much between.

Our unnamed protagonist, performed by Kotlár with uncanny watchfulness, isn’t explicitly recognized as Jewish or Roma. However as a result of he’s been despatched by his mother and father to stay within the remotest a part of his nation — additionally by no means straight named (and Marhoul selected a Slavic combine for the dialogue to keep away from specificity) — we sense ever-present hazard. Within the opening scene, he’s chased by means of the woods by anti-Semitic boys who beat him, then set his pet ferret on hearth. When he later discovers his stooped guardian Marta (Nina Sunevic) lifeless in her chair, he by accident units her whole farmhouse ablaze, forcing him to wander an alternatively harsh and bucolic land seemingly untouched by civilized progress.

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Captured by wretched, superstitious villagers, he’s bought by an aged witch physician (Ala Sakalova) as a slave/apprentice, after which he finds shelter with a crusty miller (an particularly terrifying Udo Kier) whose raging jealousy results in a stunning act of violence towards the person he suspects is sleeping along with his spouse. This sequence is the closest to one thing out of a midnight {movie}, however there’s additionally metaphoric heft to the picture of eyeballs gouged, somebody’s sight eliminated.

A short stick with a lonely outdated birdkeeper (Lech Dyblik) who usually meets a wild-eyed forest girl (Jitka Ĉvanĉarová) for intercourse ends savagely and tragically by the hands of livid townswomen, however not earlier than the person reveals the boy a telling amusement of his: daubing paint on a chicken, sending it to satisfy its flock, solely to look at the group viciously assault it as an unrecognizable alien.

After that, the treacherous terrain continues, together with a nightmarish sequence through which Jews leaping off a shifting practice are mowed down by Nazis. Different scenes are marked by charity turned the pitiless, as when a pleasant priest (Harvey Keitel, dubbed however bodily efficient) saves the boy from Germans solely to entrust him with an abusive congregant (Julian Sands), and when the attentions of a lustful farmwoman (Julia Valentova) queasily combine predation and tenderness, then morph into emotional cruelty that additional hardens the boy’s relentlessly beset soul.

It’s a curious shading that Kosiński’s story paints villagers and peasantry as probably the most breathlessly terrible tormentors, as if conflict’s hellishness had been a license to let long-festering ignorance and worry wreak havoc, whereas the mini-portraits of two troopers (Stellan Skarsgård’s stoic German and Barry Pepper’s protecting Pink Military sniper) present a number of the movie’s scarce episodes of kindness, albeit the sort born of atrocity-laden weariness, because the actors’ finely etched, compact performances reveal.

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Because the boy’s journey defines his worldview, the human vs inhuman throughline lies in whether or not his connection to a stranger emphasizes his otherness, usefulness, or want. And Marhoul is wise sufficient to speculate a cautious, dense air to a lot of normal collaborator Vladimír Smutny’s painterly, Tarkovsky-esque cinematography — breathtakingly reminding one among 35mm movie’s textured richness — as if in awe that the land nonetheless holds occasional magnificence whereas remaining nervous in regards to the inhabitants. The unsentimental strategy is matched by Jan Vlasák’s exhausting, dirty manufacturing design and vividly lived-in costume work from Helena Rovná.

And but, for all its burly artistry, “The Painted Chicken” is a sputtering behemoth, maybe too loosely assembled in its vignettes (named after every determine the boy meets) to make for a unifying assertion in regards to the collective affect of tolerating a lot barbarism at so impressionable an age. That stated, its ending — of all issues, flecked with hope — is highly effective for a way anti-climactic it’s, as if the boy’s journey, and ours, wasn’t a lot about escaping a gauntlet of hell as about dwelling to bear witness to what continues to confound us all: the inhumanity eternally gurgling, searching for launch.

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