KING OF THE BELGIANS

★★★★

A ROYAL ROAD TRIP

SYDNEY FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW
By Charlie David Page
12th June 2017

Being the king of a country seems like it would be fun. Immersed in royal luxury, with servants surrounding you, the world would be at your feet. However, the reality of the situation is probably much less exciting: you are surrounded by advisors who direct your every move, your daily life is scrutinised by the media, and more often than not, you don’t have any real power. So is the case for King Nicolas III, the subject of the mockumentary ‘King Of The Belgians’.

British filmmaker Duncan Lloyd (Pieter van der Houwen) is hired to film a documentary and stimulate the public profile of the stagnant King Nicolas III (Peter Van den Begin). Whilst on assignment with the King in Turkey, news breaks that the south of Belgium has declared independence. As Nicolas and his entourage rush to get home, a solar storm grounds all flights and cuts off communications. Determined to return home to save the day, the King sets out undercover on a monumental road trip through the politically unstable Balkans - an adventure that reignites a fire in the once-depleted ruler.

'KING OF THE BELGIANS' TRAILER

This film follows (in the best possible way) in the footsteps of ‘Arrested Development’, ‘In The Loop’ and ‘Veep’. It’s a very naturalistic variety of mockumentary, quite observational, with the comedic element stemming from the drama. Placed into the extreme situation of his country dissolving whilst abroad, Nicolas’ commitment to return to Belgium sees a bizarre series of events take place - dressing as a female dancer to escape Turkey, commandeering run-down old vehicles, crossing borders without passports, and embarking on a nautical nightmare. While collectively quite farcical, the film shot chronologically and frequently improvised, and this helps the setbacks snowball in such a way that seems entirely believable.

The King initially comes across as a quiet, reserved man, somewhat smothered by his team. Peter Van den Begin doesn’t try to dominate the film, allowing his rejuvenation to come naturally as the story progresses. Interestingly, Pieter van der Houwen doesn’t have an acting credit to his name, usually responsible for on-set stills, but his role goes from observer to participant as he begins to involve himself in the ad hoc journey. The King’s team play brilliantly off each other - Bruno Georis, Lucie Debay and Titus De Voogdt sometimes play the role of devil’s advocate, and sometimes that of the devils.

Placed into the extreme situation of his country dissolving whilst abroad, Nicolas’ commitment to return to Belgium sees a bizarre series of events take place.

This film is part-road trip movie, and there’s some stunning scenery to be witnessed on the journey through the Balkans, as the adventure takes us through lush countryside and mountainous ranges. The group’s interaction with locals is also quite unique, from traditional performers to yoghurt makers to watermelon farmers; the regional elements really make this film distinct.

This is the story of a reawakening of a man who’s been rendered dormant by his peers, his staff and his family. It’s a fantastically fun tale that takes us on a trip of discovery, full of delightful humour and ridiculousness. ‘King Of The Belgians’ is a superbly appropriate film in a world so politically askew.

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