Oscars: Czech Republic Selects 'The Painted Bird' for International Feature Film Category

Courtesy of TIFF
'The Painted Bird'

Vaclav Marhoul's Holocaust-set tale prompted mass walkouts at the Venice and Toronto film festivals.

The Czech Republic has submitted Vaclav Marhoul's dark and disturbing black-and-white film The Painted Bird for the best international feature category at the 92nd Academy Awards.

The controversial adaptation of Jerzy Kosinski's novel about a young Jewish boy wandering alone in Nazi-occupied Poland, where he witnesses gruesome atrocities, has prompted mass walkouts during screenings both at the Venice film festival, where it had its world premiere, and in Toronto.

In the latest walkout, in Toronto, around 40 members of the audience left a sparsely attended screening last week at the city's Bell Lightbox 1 theater. Toronto international film festival programmer Dorota Lech has warned viewers that the movie would "plunge into the darkest corners of the human soul" and urged them to stay until the end. "It is sometimes very difficult to watch atrocities onscreen, but it is very important to bear witness," she said.

Marhoul's adaptation of Kosinski's novel, which attracted controversy when it was first published in the 1960s, has long been in the works. After dozens of rewrites and several false starts, Prague-based Marhoul assembled an ensemble cast that include appearances by Harvey Keitel, Stellan Skarsgard, Julian Sands and Udo Kier.

The Hollywood Reporter's Venice review dubbed the film with a running time of 169 minutes "an emotional three-hour punch in the stomach." Produced by Marhoul's Silver Screen, Celluloid Dreams is handling world sales.

The Czechs have been submitting films to the Oscars since the 1960s (as Czechoslovakia) and since 1994 as the Czech Republic. Although there have been no nominations in the past 15 years, the last Czech film to win an Oscar was Jan Sverak's Kolya in 1996. In the 1960s there were two wins — for The Shop on Main Street and Closely Watched Trains.

The 92nd Academy Awards are due to take place Feb. 9, 2020.