We are living in a special time for lovers of true crime. Works such as “Making a Murderer”, “Serial”, “The Jinx”, and “Amanda Knox” embolden amateur sleuths to pore over the evidence of cold cases. There is something fascinating about hearing the facts of gruesome crimes in the light of day. Listening to the survivors and the accused. Trying to know the dead. Towering above them all is still Errol Morris’s “The Thin Blue Line”, which was instrumental in securing the confession that freed Randall Dale Adams after 12 years of wrongful imprisonment. Morris broke new ground by controversially elevating the documentary into an art form using a driving score by Philip Glass and staging reenactments of the crime which changed as if we were watching “Rashomon’.
In his documentary “A Brush Soaked in Carmine”, director Teodor Todorov follows in Morris’s footsteps by using the techniques he popularized to break open a murder case which sharply divided the country of Bulgaria. The apparent self defense killing of a 26 year old drug addict who was burglarizing the home of older artist Jordan Opitz. Unlike most of the popular true crime documentaries, Todorov’s film does not intend to damn or exonerate Opitz. There are no clues or crumbs to sift through and theorize about online. Opitz admits to the killing. The question is whether or not it could have been avoided. Optiz, a painter of religious icons, views himself as a righteous and important member of the community and makes it clear that he found the thief to be a drain on society. He blames the parents for not raising him properly and holds his own children up as the antitheses.
Opitz, blind in his right eye, tells the tale of the shooting death in stark fashion. He claims to not be a good orator, but it is impossible to imagine the film without him. His strong, steady voice acts as a guide through the crime. His counterpoint is the thief that survived. With his pale blue eyes in contrast to his drug ravaged smile, he nervously provides his side of the story and provides a voice for his deceased friend. Most of the details overlap but there is murkiness about whether the addict attacked first with a screwdriver or if the pistol used was modified to be more lethal.
Todorov is obviously a director of tremendous talent and restraint. Intelligent enough to use recreation sparingly and lean the narrative on the strength of the subjects’ own words. Also worthy of attention is the strong score by Ivan Josifov. “A Brush Soaked in Carmine” is about class divide. Who is important and who is expendable. But at its core, it is abut what happens when a creator destroys.