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is this the most controversial film of 2019?

Following mass panic and chaotic walkouts at its first screening in Venice, ‘The Painted Bird’ has already proven it's not for the faint-hearted.

by Douglas Greenwood
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04 September 2019, 10:43am

Is there any greater seal of approval for a film than swirling, stomach-churning rumours surrounding its first screening? Stories of half of its audience running for the cinema exit before it finishes, stumbling over each other and shaking at the locked doors, desperate to be let out? Well, for The Painted Bird, those rumours are a reality.

The Czech-Ukrainian Second World War drama, shot in black-and-white and nearly three hours long, had its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival yesterday. According to critics, it appears to have had a rather negative effect on members of the public who came to watch it. But with a series of plot points that sound more like endurance tests, who can blame them?

Based on a 1965 novel, The Painted Bird tells the story of a nameless boy as he’s carted around mainland Europe just as WWII is coming to an end, witnessing all of the grotesque goings-on. The audience, it seems, reacted accordingly. In Xan Brooks five-star review of the film for the Guardian (he called it a “savage, searing three-hour tour of hell”), he took note of all of the crowd’s reactions as well as what was going on screen. There was, apparently, a man who stumbled down a whole set of steps trying to escape, a “well-dressed woman” who ended up hitting her movie theatre neighbour so she could get out faster, and the incredible mental image of 12 attendees piling up at the exit, crying to be let out of a door that refused to open. It sounds horrendous… I must see it.

Needless to say the film, which will probably wind up gathering a cult audience and a few prizes come the festival’s conclusion this weekend, has set the bar high for gross-out movie moments.