In an unidentified area of war-torn Eastern Europe, a young boy is sent by his parents to live in safety with his aunt. But she dies unexpectedly, so he sets off on a journey to return home. He roams alone in a wild and hostile world in which only local rules, prejudices and superstitions apply. His struggle for virtually physical survival after the war turns into a battle of a different type. A battle that he doesn't even realize, a fight with himself, a fight for his soul, for his future.Written by
A bleak, cathartic, surreal exercise in storytelling
I had already read the 1965 novel THE PAINTED BIRD, and it most certainly stuck with me, so when I heard a film adaptation was coming out, I HAD to see it. I'm not sure if any of you have seen Asia Argento's film adaptation of JT Leroy's THE HEART IS DECEITFUL ABOVE ALL THINGS (starring the Sprouse twins) - this is basically the same movie, only it takes place with a Jewish boy during World War II rather than during contemporary times in America. It's like that movie at it's core but then mixed the aesthetics and vibes of, like, Schindler's List, and sometimes it even feels a bit like The Witch. In summary, it's about an orphaned boy wandering aimlessly trying to find a proper caretaker for himself but every single adult who takes him in is an evil person who abuses the child one way or another. Clearly, the relentlessness of the subject matter and the commitment to world-building entirely around it causes a lot of people (most people really) to despise both of these movies. However, it is clear to me that these were created as cathartic pieces of art - though it's doubtful that this ever happened this relentlessly to any child, by so many different people, it is POSSIBLE, but that's irrelevant because the film functions as a surrealist interpretation of the aloneness, the helplessness, and the inescapable claustrophobia that some children do feel as they struggle to find the footing in their developmental existence. The 3-hour runtime does cause the film to feel a bit redundant at points, but that's really the movie's only flaw, and in the end it's a rewarding viewing - all of the performances are dynamic, brave, and many of them are frightening or at the very least jarring. There are are small roles from Harvey Keitel, Barry Pepper, and a very important actor to me, Julian Sands - in probably his creepiest appearance ever. The environments and cinematography are both impressive - gorgeous but effectively bleak to match the tone. What it comes down to is that this is a beautiful film about the ugliest thing. It's not for everyone - just looks at the reviews, you could say "people hate it" - that's what the reviews show, but the truth is there is a lot to marvel at and praise here. People just can't handle certain levels of darkness in art. The most interesting part of all of this is that both books THE HEART IS DECEITFUL ABOVE ALL THINGS and THE PAINTED BIRD were originally marketed as autobiographical memoirs when they found success, then both were shunned when it was revealed that they were actually entirely fictional. THE PAINTED BIRD is the original HEART IS DECEITFUL - I just never realized it until now. Take from that what you will.
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