The on-the-road movie that conquered the Venice Film Festival. A reflection on King of the Belgians, directed by Jessica Woodworth and Peter Brosens.

During a movie festival, you often have the impression there is some unwritten rule, you have not been made aware of, which dictates that to say something deep and eye-opening you need to be the most redundant, pessimistic and dark as possible. Repetition of the same scenes over and over again, hidden symbolisms, daring attempts to shock the public are often considered pure art even when those who acclaim their greatness spend half the movie trying not to fall asleep on their chairs. Sometimes it almost feels like there is a direct correlation between annoyance and quality. However, while some “annoying” movies are indeed masterpieces, not all annoying movies end up being examples of great cinema.

I was reflecting on this universal truth when I decided to watch King of the Belgians at the 73th Venice Film Festival. A promising plot for this movie directed by Peter Brosens and Jessica Woodworth: King Nicholas III of the Belgians, on a state visit to Turkey, receives news on a political crisis in his own country and needs to leave immediately. Due to unfortunate circumstances, though, the only way to do it is a road trip through the Balkans, accompanied by his staff and by a British filmmaker who has been commissioned to shoot a documentary about him.

This movie, in an hour and a half, does what the aforementioned movies often fail to truly obtain: it shares something important about human existence and about life without losing – ever – its audience’s attention; on the contrary, it raises sincere appreciation that during the festival was expressed in spontaneous applauses even before the end.

Everything revolves around Nicholas III, a magnificent Peter Van den Begin who can convey every single feeling the king is experiencing with just a look. Like the look he gifts the camera with after dancing, one that captures the viewer, and is touching, and says all about the movie without a single word being uttered.

But there is humanity in every character portrayed in King of the Belgians and the heartbreaking confession of the sniper Dragan or the interview to the First Citizen of Yogurt Town, as we like to call it, are probably the two greatest examples of the directors’ sensitivity and of what they were able to build in term of characters and characterizations.

It is one of the meanings behind the movie, however, that inevitably catches the viewer’s attention. I am not talking about the political message nor about the sociological interpretation, even if they are both valid and convincing. What really resonates in this film is a reflection on life and identity that is surprisingly simple and, maybe because of this, surprisingly profound.

It is not the usual speech on “be yourself because it is the right thing to do”. Rather, it is the affirmation of “be yourself because it is the only effective thing to do”. And indeed it is not the role, nor the duty, nor the plan the king acts upon that make the difference in the end because – the movie seems to say – what he needed, he always had it in him. And on the plus side, it is also what made him “happy, without ifs”.

Is it really a less realistic view on humanity than the one offered in movies about tourists who take selfies while visiting concentration camps? For some, maybe. King of the Belgians is not arrogant, not heavily sarcastic and, above all, it is not mean. Yet it is much more believable exactly for these reasons; life is not always arrogant, not always sarcastic and, most of all, it is not always mean. It can be ironic and amusing, sometimes even ridiculous, and it certainly does not take itself too seriously for too long. It would not be that bad to actually remember it even during a Festival… and when it is a movie that aids us in this, well, it is probably a movie we should not forget either.

King of the Belgians is a movie directed by Peter Brosens and Jessica Woodworth starring Peter Van den Begin, Lucie Debay, Titus De Voogdt, Bruno Georis, Pieter van der Houwen, Nina Nikolina, Valentin Ganev and Goran Radaković. It was presented in the Orizzonti line-up at Venezia 73.

Official website can be found at this link.

By Agnese Pietrobon

commenta king of the belgians


Presidente, autrice. "The only way to be happy is to love. Unless you love, your life will flash by" The Tree of Life, 2011