The painted Bird: A panoply of depravity | Sunday Observer

The painted Bird: A panoply of depravity

7 November, 2021
The cast and crew of ‘The Painted Bird’
The cast and crew of ‘The Painted Bird’

The Painted Bird is a 2019 internationally co-produced black and white wardrama film written, directed and produced by Václav Marhoul. It is an adaptation of Jerzy Kosiński’s novel of the same name. It is the first film to feature the Interslavic language; Marhoul stated that he decided to use Interslavic so that no Slavic nation would nationally identify with the story.

The film was selected to compete at the 76th Venice International Film Festival and was chosen for the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival as part of Special Presentations. The film also screened in the Dare strand at the 63rd BFI London Film Festival.

It was selected as the Czech entry for the Best International Feature Film at the 92nd Academy Awards making the December shortlist. Its brutal scenes led to walkouts from audiences at the Venice, Toronto and London film festivals. At the 35th Warsaw International Film Festival, the audience honored the film with a long ovation after its only screening.

‘The Painted Bird’ was nominated for 11 Czech Lion Awards and has won 9 of them including the Best film.


Václav Marhoul announced his intention to adapt Jerzy Kosiński’s ‘The Painted Bird’ in September 2012 when he secured rights for the story. Marhoul stated that the film will have a budget of approximately 120 million CZK. His plan was to secure finances during the next two years. The film received financial support of 15 million CZK from the Czech Film Fund in 2016.

The film began production in 2017. Marhoul decided to shoot the film in seven phases.First phase finished in May 2017. Filmmakers were filming around Ukrainian village Svalovych in March 2017 and some reshoots had to be made in April 2017 in the Brdy Military area. Second phase started in South Slovakia in June 2017. Film crew was shooting around the Váhriver, at MlynskáDolina and in MalýDunajec.

Shooting moved to Lipno Dam and Kvilda in February and March 2018. Crew had to deal with bad weather as they needed ice on the lake. Shooting concluded in July 2018 after 100 shooting days during 16 months. The film then entered post production.Post production concluded in February 2019.

For the villagers’ dialogue, Marhoul decided to use the Interslavic language instead of any ethnic Slavic language:

“I didn’t want the villagers (speaking) Ukrainian or Polish or Russian or something like that because those people (the villagers in the film) are really bad people. I didn’t want some nation to be associated with that,” director Marhoul told the international media.

Critical response

The film has received very positive reviews from critics with many likening it to films by Andrei Tarkovsky. It holds an approval rating of 81% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 99 reviews, with an average rating of 7.50/10. The site’s critics consensus reads: “Brutally uncompromising in its portrayal of Nazi Germany, ‘The Painted Bird’ is a difficult watch that justifies its dark horror with searing impact.” On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 72 out of 100, based on 23 critics, indicating “generally favorable reviews”.

The film was screened for journalists on 2 September 2019. Some people left the theatre as they could not stand the depicted violence and rape scenes. The Daily Mail described it as “a panoply of depravity.” Overall reception was positive as the film received a long ovation from the audience and some unofficial responses called it one of the front-runners for Golden Lion, but ultimately lost to ‘Joker’. Director Marhoul was particularly praised. The film also received a 10-minute standing ovation during its premiere on 3 September 2019.

Xan Brooks of ‘The Guardian’ gave the film five stars, calling it a “savage, searing three-hour tour of hell” and “phantasmagorical horror, rattling around ravaged eastern Europe for just shy of three hours.” He praised the film’s visuals and atmosphere. Guy Lodge of ‘Variety’ was also positive, noting camerawork by Vladimír Smutný. He called the film “muscular, savagely realized Jerzy Kosiński adaptation puts an unnamed Jewish boy through a challenging litany of Holocaust horrors.”

In a more negative review, A.A. Dowd of ‘The A.V. Club’ praised the film’s cinematography while criticizing its bleak tone, saying “The Painted Bird is, in the end, the kind of slog that treats shopworn insights about the brutality of man as justification for drowning us in the evidence.”

‘The Hollywood Reporter’ picked ‘The Painted Bird’ as one of 20 best films projected at Film festivals during Fall 2019.