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

The Painted Bird - TIFF - Publicity - H 2019
Courtesy of TIFF

TIFF programmer Dorota Lech introduced Vaclav Marhoul's film as "masterful, yet very challenging" 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.

TIFF programmer Dorota Lech earlier introduced Marhoul's film as "very masterful, yet very challenging," before adding: "It is sometimes very difficult to watch atrocities onscreen, but it is very important to bear witness."

The Bell Lightbox 1 theater has 522 seats. The balcony wasn't open for the Painted Bird screening, and some ground-floor seats remained unfilled as the film got underway.

The Toronto festival said two of the three screenings of The Painted Bird at the festival were sold out and one screening had a full house.

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.

Sept. 20, 5:30 a.m. Updated to remove an earlier inaccurate account that indicated programmer Dorota Lech urged The Painted Bird audience to stay for the entire screening. THR apologizes for the incorrect account.