By Adam Ray Palmer
One late evening at Venezia73, I popped into the Sala Volpi theatre (a new one this year) to catch a Belgian film that seemed to be gaining popularity here.
The starring talent all hail from Belgium as does one half of the directing/writing pair. The other, Jessica Woodworth, was born in the US.
King of the Belgians was the only foreign language film I caught this year so I was hoping for it to be the best choice I had made...
King of the Belgians is a political comedy where a group of five people, including the Belgian King, must find a way home to their native country from Turkey. His country is warring within itself as Wallonia wishes to be independent from the Flemish. The only catch being a solar storm has struck and flights are grounded, let alone the loss of signal everywhere. The Belgian monarch is on lockdown with the Turks but that won't stop him getting home.
The film begins with the audience being introduced to the main group. We have King Nicolas III (Peter Van den Begin), filmmaker Duncan Lloyd (Pieter van der Houwen), and the King’s three assistants Louise Vancraeyenest (Lucie Debay), Ludovic Moreau (Bruno Georis) and Carlos (Titus De Voogdt). The five of them are in Turkey on a state visit to introduce the country into the EU. When the solar storm hits, they must find a way to get home to their warring country.
Their first initial escape is across the Balkans when Duncan decides to film a music video for a female choir that are in town. The King and his team dress up ridiculously and their plan works to get them into Bulgaria. Along the way back to Turkey, the group go to a yoghurt festival in Bulgaria and also share a raki-filled night in Serbia with on old friend of Duncan’s who is troubled with his past a sharpshooter.
The film’s first act is intriguing and you assume this movie will play out to be comedy hit. Sadly, it isn’t the case. When we first meet the central characters, their chemistry is everything. They are strictly professional with each other, they’re witty and dry. As the film goes on, the character growth is imperative but we lose the edgier comedy. It depends what you want from this film, I was expecting a humorous jolly but the laughs soon dry up.
The King’s character is the biggest development as in time he grows from being a ceremonial puppet to becoming his own man and writing his own speeches without consulting anyone around him, namely the prime minister. This is a nice side-plot but not enough to save the movie. King of the Belgians is intelligently shot as it is a film within a film. The audience watches what Duncan Lloyd shoots which a decent touch. It just ends up being a tame tale that could have been so much more after a great first 20 minutes.
In the end, it’s submissive and frustrating. The film has a decent core with alluring characters but it simply tails off. The crowd in my screening also seemed torn. A mixture of gentle clapping and a few slight sighs met the credits which is as polarising and disappointing as the two acts of the film. King of the Belgians is king of the mixed bag.
Cineroom’s Rating: 2.5 Stars
King of the Belgians currently has no release date in the UK – certificate TBC