"Horrific, Brutal Vision of Man’s Inhumanity to Man"
What You Need To Know:
Based on an acclaimed 1965 novel, THE PAINTED BIRD is a horrific, brutal vision of man’s inhumanity to man, with little grace or kindness. At 170 minutes, THE PAINTED BIRD is a long descent into horror. Though there are some bright spots, such as an elderly priest who displays kindness toward the boy, the movie’s somber tone is relentless. All the other Catholics in this story are pretty despicable. There’s a ray of hope at the very end of THE PAINTED BIRD, but not enough to make the experience of watching it worthwhile.
THE PAINTED BIRD is an overlong, repetitious drama about a young boy trying to find his way back to his parents during World War II in Eastern Europe, but witnessing all sorts of horrible things and being himself repeatedly abused by the despicable people he encounters. Based on an acclaimed 1965 novel, THE PAINTED BIRD is a horrific, brutal vision of man’s inhumanity to man, with little grace or kindness.
The movie opens with the unnamed boy, who’s supposed to age from 6 to 12, living on his elderly aunt’s farm, where his parents left him for safety’s sake. The first scene shows him running from some other boys, who take the boy’s pet ferret and burn it alive. His aunt is caring, but one day she dies, and the boy is so startled to find her dead that he drops the lamp he’s carrying and the whole farmhouse burns down in flames.
The boy sets out on is own. As he wanders the countryside, however, he finds mostly depraved, sick people. For example, one older man who takes him in beats his wife and gouges out the eyes of his male farmhand for allegedly making eyes at her. Also, in one village, a kindly priest saves him from being killed by the Nazis running the village but then naively lets him stay with a wealthy parishioner, but the parishioner turns out to be a pedophile. Then, on the edge of a lake, the boy is shelted by a teenage girl and her dying, bedridden elderly father. The girl happens to be having incestuous relations with her father, but when her father dies, she tries to seduce the boy. However, he’s too young to please her, so she ruthlessly spurns him when he tries to express some affection for her.
Finally, two soldiers who are part of a Russian brigade fighting the Nazis and local Nazi sympathizers take in the boy. At one point, the one soldier urges him to be a “good communist,” while the other soldier lets him tag along to a sniper job to get revenge on some local villagers who murdered three other Russian soldiers. “An eye for an eye,” the sniper tells the boy. Shortly thereafter, the sniper gives the boy a pistol when they leave the boy at a local orphanage. The boy takes this lesson to heart when a man in the local marketplace beats up the boy for looking at a toy he’s selling.
At 170 minutes, THE PAINTED BIRD is a long descent into horror. Though there are some bright spots, such as the elderly priest who displays kindness toward the boy, the movie’s somber tone is relentless. All the other Catholics in this story are pretty despicable. There’s a ray of hope at the very end of THE PAINTED BIRD, but nowhere near the poignant hopefulness of Steven Spielberg’s masterful version of J.G. Ballard’s novel EMPIRE OF THE SUN, which is about an English boy who gets separated from his parents in China during World War II. THE PAINTED BIRD is a depressing and nihilistic movie.