×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Without the King

"Without the king," Princess Sikhanyiso solemnly proclaims, "we have no culture." The culture in question belongs to the tiny African country of Swaziland, the only absolute monarchy left on the planet, and, not coincidentally, the country with the highest rate of HIV/AIDS and the lowest life expectancy.

With:
With: King Mswati III, Princess Sikhanyiso. (English, Siswati dialogue)

“Without the king,” Princess Sikhanyiso solemnly proclaims, “we have no culture.” The culture in question belongs to the tiny African country of Swaziland, the only absolute monarchy left on the planet, and, not coincidentally, the country with the highest rate of HIV/AIDS and the lowest life expectancy. In spite of the country’s problems, however, King Mswati III, resplendent in tribal garb, hops the globe on his privately-owned, publicly-financed jet. Yet, with Swaziland providing this mother lode of material, helmer Michael Skolnik extracts only the most pedestrian of films. Opening April 25 at Gotham’s Quad Cinema, “Without the King’s” astounding subject-matter will have to trump its poor execution to fill B.O. coffers.

As in his previous docu “Lockdown,” ostensibly about the draconian Rockefeller drug laws but dominated by the figure and agenda of Russell Simmons, Skolnik tends to lack focus, easily waylaid by his subjects, seduced by his very access to the rich and famous or the poor and desperate.

Thus scenes with Princess Sikhanyiso (aka Pashu) formlessly go on forever, whether she is conducting an on-camera tour of one of her father’s opulently appointed 14 palaces (one for each wife), bidding tearful adieus to her mother and brothers before taking off to a Christian college in California, or wandering around Hollywood Boulevard musing aloud that they could use some of this snazzy technology back in Swaziland.

The princess’ candid obliviousness invites a Swazilandic remake of “Clueless,” while her belated realization of social injustice possesses all the conviction of a Jane Fonda hairdo makeover being used to denote raised consciousness.

Interviews with members of banned political parties (all political parties are banned in Swaziland) seem equally shapeless, while shaky, hand-held coverage of street protests make them appear sparse and impotent rather than spontaneous. On visits to NGOs feeding the legions of children orphaned by the AIDS pandemic, docu shamelessly wallows in cheap sentimentality and mournful music.

Yet despite these limitations, “King” fascinates on many levels as it ticks off intriguing sociological facts about this impoverished nation. Life expectancy is a shocking 32 years old, while the HIV/AIDS prevalence rate is 42.6% (as opposed to America’s 0.6%).

King Mswati rationalizes his life of luxury and utter autocracy with an offhand cultured charm that is a marvel of double-speak.

Then there is the annual “Reed Dance” led by the Princess, wherein more than 75,000 bare-breasted girls celebrate their virginity, usually culminating with the king’s choice of another wife. Not that helmer Skolnik really allows himself to “exploit” the spectacle visually.

Tech credits are unremarkable.

Without the King

Production: A First Run Features release of a Red Envelope Entertainment presentation in association with Soze Prods. of a Red Envelope Entertainment production. Produced by Paolo Mendoza, Michael Skolnik. Executive producer, Ted Sarandos. Directed by Michael Skolnik.

Crew: Camera (color, DV), James Adolphus; editor, Martha Skolnik; music, Mark Kilian; sound, Toforra McKenzie, Evan Benjamin. Reviewed on DVD, New York, April 15, 2008. Running time: 84 MIN.

With: With: King Mswati III, Princess Sikhanyiso. (English, Siswati dialogue)

More Film

  • Sygeplejeskolen sc 205

    Claudia Boderke, Lars Mering Talk ‘The New Nurses,’ Gender, Class

    The inevitable comparison for SF Studios’ “The New Nurses,” at least from a Danish broadcast perspective, is “Something’s Rockin,’” another 2018 TV 2 Charlie show which was retro but forward-looking. “Something’s Rockin’” described the birth of an independent radio with culture in Denmark. Produced by SF Studios’ Senia Dremstrup (“Norskov”),  “The New Nurses” talks cleverly [...]

  • Robert Redford

    Robert Redford to Receive Honorary Cesar Award

    Legendary American actor and director Robert Redford is set to receive an honorary Cesar award, France’s equivalent of the Oscars, at the 44th annual César ceremony, which will take place on Feb. 22 in Paris. “An iconic actor, an exceptional director, a passionate producer, founder and president of Sundance, the most revered festival of independent [...]

  • Goteborg: Co-writer Hakan Lindhe on Viaplay’s

    Co-Writer Hakan Lindhe on Politics, Image in Viaplay’s ‘The Inner Circle’

    David Ehrling, Sweden’s Minister for Enterprise, who is tipped to be its next Prime Minister, spends a lot of the time in Sweden’s “The Inner Circle” not preparing his speeches, or in impassioned discussion of key political issues, but staring into the mirror, rain checking on his strong-jawed image. He spends much of his enterprise, [...]

  • 'Invisibles' Director Louis-Julien Petit On His

    'Invisibles' Director Louis-Julien Petit on his Socially-Minded Smash

    PARIS —  Far from a dumping ground, the months of January and February have become synonymous in France with the kinds of highly polished crowd-pleasing comedies that dominate the annual box-office. This year is no exception, only nestled among the likely blockbusters “Serial Bad Weddings 2” and “City Hunter” is Louis-Julien Petit’s socially minded dramedy [...]

  • "The Continent," directed by Chinese racer

    Alibaba Pictures Buys Into Chinese Director Han Han's Film Studio

    Alibaba Pictures confirmed that it has invested an undisclosed amount in Chinese celebrity blogger-turned-film director Han Han’s Shanghai Tingdong Film. Han’s upcoming “Pegasus” is one of the most anticipated films of the year in China. Alibaba Pictures, part of e-commerce giant Alibaba, is now the second-largest stakeholder in Tingdong. It has a 13.1% stake, according to Chinese [...]

  • Nicolas Philibert Talks Nursing Documentary 'Each

    Nicolas Philibert: 'A Director Driven To Make A Statement Cannot Make Cinema'

    PARIS  — For over two decades, French documentarian Nicolas Philibert has examined his country’s various public institutions with a watchmaker’s calm and anthropologist’s curiosity. In films like “To Be and To Have,” “La Maison de la Radio” and “Louvre City,” he’s taken his camera into schoolhouses, broadcast hubs and the world’s most famous museum. His [...]

  • 'Don't Come Back from the Moon'

    Film Review: 'Don't Come Back from the Moon'

    Cinematographer-turned-director Bruce Thierry Cheung offers an artful and affecting mix of harshly defined specifics and impressionistic storytelling in “Don’t Come Back from the Moon,” a cumulatively poignant drama about absent fathers and abandoned families in an economically devastated desert community. Structured more like a tone poem than a conventional narrative, it’s an elliptical memory play [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content