'The Painted Bird' Holocaust Drama Prompts Mass Walkout at Toronto

Courtesy of TIFF
'The Painted Bird'

TIFF programmer Dorota Lech introduced Vaclav Marhoul's film as a "plunge into the darkest corners of the human soul," before around 40 people left the 522-seat theater.

Vaclav Marhoul's grim and violent adaptation of Jerzy Kosinski's novel The Painted Bird lived up to its controversial billing at the 2019 Toronto Film Festival after a notorious Venice bow by prompting a mass walkout at Bell Lightbox on Wednesday night.

The audience exodus started soon after the black-and-white epic Holocaust movie began its North American premiere in the Bell Lightbox 1 auditorium. By the one-hour mark, around 30 viewers had departed, and another dozen had left by the end of the movie.

That's despite TIFF programmer Dorota Lech having introduced Marhoul's film as a "plunge into the darkest corners of the human soul," as she urged the audience to stay until the end of the movie. "It is sometimes very difficult to watch atrocities onscreen, but it is very important to bear witness," Lech said.

The Bell Lightbox 1 theater has 522 seats. The balcony wasn't open for the Painted Bird screening, and many ground-floor seats remained unfilled as the film got underway. There was no post-screening Q&A, as director Marhoul is promoting the film in Europe.

The Painted Bird, which prompted similar walkouts when debuting in Venice, portrays a nameless boy, played by newcomer Petr Kotlar, wandering Nazi-occupied Eastern Europe during World War II. It also stars Stellan Skarsgard and Harvey Keitel. The story seen through a child's eye is based on Kosinski's 1965 novel, which caused controversy and criticism for an unflinching portrayal of wartime horrors enacted by Polish peasants, not German Nazis.