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Poetic Lensing Accents Horrors of Czech Republic’s ‘The Painted Bird’

After debuting in competition at the Venice Film Festival, Václav Marhoul’s “The Painted Bird,” which is the Czech Republic’s submission for this year’s best international film Oscar category, has gone on to great acclaim, much of it focused on the extraordinary cinematographic work of Czech DP Vladimir Smutny.

His stunning black-and white-lensing for the film, capturing both the splendid, timeless nature of dramatic Eastern European and Ukrainian landscapes and the barbaric human behavior of its World War II-set tale, has garnered awards on the festival circuit, including kudos from the Camerimage Festival in Poland and the Chicago Intl. Film Festival.

Variety’s Guy Lodge noted, “‘The Painted Bird’ is inarguably effective and immersive, its hard, unyielding gaze backed up by the muscularity of its craft. The clean-lined elegance of Smutný’s compositions — which often render human scuffles small against expansive natural backdrops — evoke a disinterested world that will endure whatever our burdened protagonist’s fate.”

In his five-star review of the film in The Guardian, Xan Brooks calls “The Painted Bird, “a film that makes a mockery of star ratings…a monumental piece of work” and praises Smutny’s contribution:

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”Judged purely on visual terms, “The Painted Bird” is gorgeous: a lush black-and-white tour of birch forests and bulrushes and remote rustic hamlets. Judged as drama, it is brazenly brutal, a pitiless chronicle of a land red in tooth and claw, so steeped in primitive suspicions that it’s startling to suddenly see a 20th-century plane or a truck…”

Smutny’s 50-year body of work was recognized with the prestigious President’s Award at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival earlier this year, an honor that noted his record of seven Czech Lion Awards (his nation’s equivalent of the Oscars) for cinematography. Smutny is perhaps best-known in the West for his work on the 1996 foreign-language film Oscar-winner, Jan Svěrák’s “Kolya.” “Painted Bird” marks the celebrated DP’s third collaboration with director Marhoul.

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