On April 20, 2015, two thieves broke into Oslo’s Galleri Nobel and walked out with a pair of rolled-up canvases by painter Barbora Kysilkova. That crime sets the stage for the remarkable and surprisingly moving documentary “The Painter and the Thief,” which charts the Czech-born, Oslo-based artist’s subsequent friendship with one of the two men who stole her art: Karl-Bertil Nordland. A junkie who was so high at the time of the burglary that he can’t recall what happened to Kysilkova’s art, Nordland begins posing for Kysilkova, who approached him in the courtroom, seemingly as a way to make recompense for the loss of her art. What ensues is a strange and beautiful story touching on the meaning of love, forgiveness, exploitation, the role of the muse and healing. Filmmaker Benjamin Ree (“Magnus”) doesn’t tell the tale — complete with twists — in a linear fashion, and he leaves some things, such as details about Nordland’s sentence, unanswered. But as he follows this odd couple through Nordland’s continuing trouble with the law, rehab and eventually enrollment in nursing school, and Kysilkova’s struggles with paying her studio rent and her relationship with her boyfriend, what emerges is a narrative powerful and provocative enough to make “Painter” the best art documentary since last years’s “The Proposal.” Unrated. Available May 22 at afisilver.afi.com and sunscinema.com. Contains drug material, coarse language and smoking. In English and Norwegian with subtitles. 102 minutes.
— Michael O'Sullivan
No sooner has “The Lovebirds,” a romaction-comedy starring Issa Rae and Kumail Nanjiani, gotten off to a promising start with a charming opening sequence than cold reality sets in: Jibran (Nanjiani) and Leilani (Rae) re-meet cute the morning after a one-night hookup, sharing breakfast and flirty banter. Four years later, they’re a bickering couple, distracted by social media envy (her) and an unfinished film project (him). But it’s when the viewer remembers that “The Lovebirds” was originally slated for theatrical release in April — that notorious dumping ground for mediocre material — that the shiver goes down the spine. Hewing to a formula made famous by “Date Night,” “Game Night,” “Knight and Day” and other movies with “night” or its homophones in the title, this economical but inescapably derivative diversion takes its protagonists on an increasingly absurdist and illogical journey, winding up in a scenario that looks like hastily assembled outtakes from “Eyes Wide Shut.” The film is smoothly directed by Michael Showalter, but even the charms of Rae and Nanjiani — who do their best to keep the balloon afloat with rapid-fire banter and their innate appeal — can’t make “The Lovebirds” take flight. R. Available May 22 on Netflix. Contains sexuality, strong language throughout and some violence. 86 minutes.
— Ann Hornaday
The earnest drama “Mr. Jones” tells the story of Gareth Jones (James Norton), a Welsh journalist who, in the early 1930s, when many mainstream Western papers were still covering Joseph Stalin from a respectful distance, slipped into Ukraine to report about the Soviet leader’s devastating policies in that country, resulting in man-made famine (known as the Holodomor). Directed by Agnieszka Holland (“Europa Europa”), the story has a timely resonance, given today’s attitudes about “fake news” and the attacks on journalism from on high, but it lacks a sense of urgency. It’s a well-crafted but dutiful film, even when it’s attempting to convey outrage, as when Jones says, “I don’t have an agenda — unless you call truth an agenda.” Unrated. Available May 22 at afisilver.afi.com and theavalon.org. Contains scenes of misery, death and cannibalism, nudity and drug use. In English, Russian and Ukrainian with subtitles. 119 minutes.
“I’m not photogenic, and I’m very old,” says the opinionated author and Mexican cooking expert who’s the subject of “Diana Kennedy: Nothing Fancy.” “I’m not a great subject.” Untrue. Directed and produced by Elizabeth Carroll, the 81-minute documentary would be entertaining at twice the length. The film efficiently summarizes a life well-lived: Kennedy was born in England in 1923, and moved to Mexico in 1957 with her husband, New York Times correspondent Paul Kennedy. He died in 1967, but Kennedy, who never left Mexico, has spent the rest of her life researching and promoting Mexican cuisine, to the extent that even indigenous chefs consider her an honorary Mexican. We’ll have to take it on faith that her cooking is as delicious as it looks, but as a personality, Kennedy — 95 at the time of filming, and still driving her truck down winding mountain roads — may be even spicier than the hot peppers she loves to use. Restaurateur Nick Zukin explains that, “She doesn’t care if people like her.” But it’s Kennedy’s bluntness that makes her so endearing, as, when preparing a bowl of guacamole, she insists, “If people don’t like cilantro, don’t invite them.” Unrated. Available May 22 at afisilver.afi.com, theavalon.org, themiracletheatre.com and dianakennedymovie.com. Contains some strong language. 81 minutes. On Saturday at 8 p.m., there will be a free virtual Q&A with director Elizabeth Carroll, chefs Alice Waters and Gabriela Cámara, and food writer David Tanis, moderated by author Lesley Tellez. Register at bit.ly/DianaKennedyQARegistration.
— Pat Padua
The sport — and art — of fly-fishing is celebrated in the documentary “Land of Little Rivers.” Unrated. Available on Amazon and Vimeo. 93 minutes.
Narrated by Annette Bening, the documentary “A Towering Task: The Story of the Peace Corps” looks at the history of the service organization established in 1961 by President John F. Kennedy. Unrated. Available at watch.firstrunfeatures.com. 107 minutes.
In the indie dramedy “Buffaloed,” Zoey Deutch plays a women who tries to achieve escape velocity from the city of Buffalo by becoming a debt collector. “Simultaneously rowdy and slick, ‘Buffaloed’ is exuberantly paced, according to the New York Times — “and entirely dependent on Deutch’s moxie and pell-mell performance.” Unrated. Available on various streaming platforms. 94 minutes.
Kristin Scott Thomas stars in “Military Wives,” a fact-based drama about a group of English women who start a choir while their husbands are deployed in Afghanistan. PG-13. Available May 22 on various streaming platforms, including Hulu, afisilver.afi.com and cinemaartstheatre.com. Contains some strong language and sexual references. 113 minutes.
“Torpedo U-235” is a World War II thriller about a group of resistance fighters on a mission to deliver a Uranium-filled submarine from the Belgian Congo to the United States, where the cargo will be used for the Manhattan Project. Unrated. Available via various on-demand platforms. In English, German, French and Dutch with subtitles. 102 minutes.
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