A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
In its bleak way, movie celebrates perseverance of human spirit against all odds. Even after all injustices and indignities the boy faces, he endures. Even when faced with humanity's darkest, most frightening aspects, he continues to fight for another day. So many times it would have seemed easier for him to give up, but he still seeks connection and to live another day.
Positive Role Models
The boy is courageous, learns to survive unthinkable circumstances. A couple of characters are protective of him, try to help him. A few adults show momentary kindness to the boy, but circumstances never last long.
Violence & Scariness
Lots of bleak violence. In opening scene, kids attack the main character, grabbing his pet ferret, burning it to death in front of him. Villagers turn the boy over to Nazis. Many characters die or are seriously injured from various causes, most violent: Characters are kicked, beaten, shot, buried alive, sexually assaulted with objects. One dies via suicide. A man brutally beats his wife and, in a horrifying scene, takes out a man's eyes with a spoon. The boy traps and kills a goat, bringing its decapitated head to a woman. An older man rapes the boy (the act isn't shown, but it's clear from positioning on bed what has taken place). Suggested incest. One soldier is supposed to execute the boy but doesn't; another gives him a gun to keep him safe.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
A farm worker stares longingly at the farmer's wife, who reciprocates his loaded looks. Main character sees an older man having sex with a much younger woman in the garden. The same woman touches herself suggestively in front of group of leering young adolescent men. Later, she's seen having sex with one of them against a tree. The boy overhears a woman having sex with an elderly man (who's presumably her father), but their bodies are silhouetted in background, so it's unclear exactly what's going on. After the older man's death, the woman asks the boy to touch her body, has sex with him. She later appears to be engaging in sexual activity with a goat.
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Language in subtitles includes "s--t," "whore," "bitch," "satan," "evil," "demon," and the insult "Yid."
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
A few of the men the boy encounters drink hard liquor at home and at a pub. A man smokes.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that The Painted Bird is an extremely bleak, violent adaptation of Jerzy Kosinski's equally harrowing 1965 novel. The drama follows a young, unnamed boy (Petr Kotlár) as he travels from one dangerous, disturbing situation to another in war-torn Eastern Europe during World War II. While this isn't strictly a Holocaust drama, it's eventually made clear that the boy is Jewish and was supposed to be hiding with an elderly woman in the countryside -- until she unexpectedly died, leaving him utterly alone. This film is not for the faint of heart: It includes an almost unwatchable amount of upsetting violence, all of which the young main character experiences or witnesses. There's domestic and sexual abuse, pedophilia, statutory rape, suggested incest, bestiality, anti-Semitic attacks, animal cruelty, torture, and distress. It's not easy to watch even for adults -- when it made the rounds of the European film festival circuit, audiences were known to walk out -- and it's definitely not meant for children or teens. To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails.
Is It Any Good?
This technically impressive and brilliantly performed but incredibly difficult to watch WWII drama is the sort of haunting, harrowing movie you watch once and only once. Every moviegoer has a list (whether they realize it or not) of genuinely unforgettable films that were also so gut-wrenching and brutal that they'll likely never see them again -- perhaps movies like American History X, Elephant, Funny Games, Requiem for a Dream, The Revenant, etc. Go ahead and add The Painted Bird to that list now. The boy's odyssey is mythically, biblically miserable and disturbing. Just when he ends up with someone who seems capable of momentary kindness, tragedy (almost always in the form of violence) strikes, and he's on the run again.
Czech director Václav Marhoul makes sure to set the film both nowhere and everywhere in Eastern Europe. The characters speak a Slavic "Esperanto," a fictional pan-Slavic language that allows for familiar international actors (Kier, Keitel, Skarsgard, Sands, Pepper, etc.) to speak without sounding as obviously foreign. Kudos to young actor Kotlár, who has barely any speaking lines and must convey the boy's every emotion with his body -- particularly his face, with its haunted and haunting eyes. The human degradation he has to witness and endure is nearly unprecedented in film. The cinematography is beautifully rendered in black and white, and the fact that it can be appreciated given the content says a lot about director of photography Vladimír Smutný's talent. Like the scene of the vultures pecking at the main character's head, drawing blood until he's rescued at the last minute, this is a film that will poke holes in your heart and soul until the last moment, when a not-so-happily-ever-after reunion signals that, despite the horrors, humanity endures -- traumatized but grateful.
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