×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘King of the Belgians’

An enormously appealing mockumentary about a Belgian king stuck in Turkey when Wallonia secedes, who needs to drive through the Balkans to get home.

With:
Peter Van den Begin, Bruno Georis, Lucie Debay, Titus De Voogdt, Pieter van der Houwen, Goran Radaković, Nina Nikolina, Valentin Ganev, Nathalie Laroche. (Dutch, French, English, Bulgarian dialogue)

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4818804/

A classic mockumentary blending gently satirical humor with deeper underpinnings, “King of the Belgians” is a delightful, surprisingly respectful ribbing of the incongruity of monarchy, Belgium, and the Balkans. Director-scripters Peter Brosens and Jessica Woodworth deliver a much more lighthearted divertissement than “The Fifth Season,” imagining a British documentarian filming a staid Belgian king’s state visit to Turkey just when Wallonia declares independence. Since a cosmic storm has cut off phone lines and air travel, the monarch and his entourage must drive through the Balkans as the only means of high-tailing it back home. “King” will be especially appreciated in the home countries, with likely modest success in other Euro locales.

It’s not just royalty that’s considered anomalous in this day and age: Belgium itself, uneasily composed of French and Flemish halves, holds a slightly jokey position in the European consciousness, home to the EU yet lacking (this is perception) a recognizable identity. The same can be said for King Nicolas III (Peter Van den Begin), the tall, dignified, seemingly blank monarch whose controlling wife Queen Ursula (Nathalie Laroche) hires Duncan Lloyd (Pieter van der Houwen) to make a documentary that will show the royal family in a flattering light.

Ensuring that the right message comes across are rigid Ludovic Moreau (Bruno Georis), chief of protocol, and uptight Louise Vancraeyenest (Lucie Debay), recently put in charge of press relations. The first official engagement to be filmed is the King’s trip to Turkey, timed for the country’s admission (yeah, right) into the EU. Nicolas is every bit the regal monarch expected in the 21st century: measured, bland, trained to speak little and express less. Even his valet Carlos De Vos (Titus De Voogdt) talks more. Then they get the call: Wallonia has seceded. Obviously they need to return, yet a solar storm cuts off not just the phone but all air traffic, and Kerim Bulut (Valentin Ganev), deputy head of Turkish Security, tells the party they may have to wait a week before leaving.

Not an option, of course, so the King suggests they drive via the Balkans. Moreau nixes the idea (“It’s the Balkans!”), but Lloyd befriends Ana (Nina Nikolina), a Bulgarian folk singer with the Black Sea Sirens, and disguised in colorful traditional costumes, the royal entourage are smuggled on the women’s bus and out of Turkey. What follows is a very amusing trek through Bulgaria, Serbia, Montenegro, and Albania (though shooting was all done in Bulgaria), involving Kukeri figures just like in “Toni Erdmann,” a yogurt jury, a former Serbian sniper (Goran Radaković), and lots of potent rakia.

One of the most appealing aspects of “King of the Belgians” is that for all the gentle ribbing, there’s nothing here to offend anyone: This is a genuinely nice movie that even Philippe, the real reigning monarch of the Belgians, could find delightful. Nicolas may be a stuffed shirt at first, but that’s what centuries of breeding does (and Van den Begin perfectly captures that ultra-composed royal placidity); when the occasion calls for extraordinary measures, he rises to the call of duty and takes charge. And while the Balkans have a Wild West element about them, it’s tempered by good people — even Dragan, the over-the-top Serbian ex-sniper, who could so easily be merely a cartoon sadist with no remorse, is haunted by what he did during the war.

About the only people who might be disappointed are the directors’ devoted fans who expected something more along the lines of “The Fifth Season.” Yet “King” is firmly in mockumentary road-trip mode, which means camerawork that appears to be done on the fly (but only appears to be), off-kilter framing, and heaps of supposedly off-the-cuff set-ups. It’s hard to imagine anyone unable to open themselves up to the film’s gentle joshing. One criticism however: a little less of Grieg’s “Peer Gynt Suite 1,” please.

Popular on Variety

Film Review: 'King of the Belgians'

Reviewed at Venice Film Festival (Horizons), Sept. 3, 2016. Running time: 94 MIN.

Production: (Belgium-The Netherlands-Bulgaria) A Bo Films, Entre Chien et Loup, Topkapi Films, Art Fest production. (International sales: Be for Films, Brussels.) Producers: Peter Brosens, Jessica Woodworth. Co-producers: François Touwaide, Arnold Heslenfeld, Frans Van Gestel, Laurette Schillings, Mira Staleva, Stefan Kitanov.

Crew: Director, writer: Peter Brosens, Jessica Woodworth. Camera (color): Ton Peters. Editor: David Verdurme.

With: Peter Van den Begin, Bruno Georis, Lucie Debay, Titus De Voogdt, Pieter van der Houwen, Goran Radaković, Nina Nikolina, Valentin Ganev, Nathalie Laroche. (Dutch, French, English, Bulgarian dialogue)

More Film

  • Slam

    Film Review: ‘Slam’

    The disappearance of a fearless female Palestinian-Australian slam poet triggers suspense and powerful social and political commentary in “Slam,” an outstanding slow-burn thriller by expat Indian filmmaker Partho Sen-Gupta (“Sunrise”). Starring Palestinian actor Adam Bakri (“Omar,” “Official Secrets”) as the missing woman’s conflicted brother, and leading Aussie performer Rachael Blake as a troubled cop, Opening [...]

  • Igo Kantor

    Igo Kantor, Producer and Post-Production Executive, Dies at 89

    Igo Kantor, whose Hollywood career took him from Howard Hughes’ projection room to supervising post-production on “Easy Rider” and producing B-movies like “Kingdom of the Spiders” and “Mutant,” died Oct. 15. He was 89. Kantor, who was born in Vienna and raised in Lisbon, met “Dillinger” director Max Nosseck on the ship to New York. [...]

  • The Lion King

    Average Movie Ticket Price Falls 4% in Third Quarter of 2019

    Average ticket prices for the third quarter have dropped 4% to $8.93, down from Q2’s $9.26, the National Association of Theatre Owners announced today. However, compared with the third quarter of 2018, ticket price has risen 1.1% from $8.83. The summer box office is down 2.13% from 2018, though the third quarter box office is [...]

  • Tilda Swinton to Preside Over The

    Tilda Swinton to Preside Over Marrakech Film Festival

    Tilda Swinton, the iconoclastic British actress and producer, is set to preside over the 18th edition of the Marrakech International Film Festival, succeeding to American director James Gray. Swinton, who won an Oscar and a BAFTA award for best supporting actress for “Michael Clayton,” has been leading an eclectic acting career. She has collaborated with [...]

  • The King Netflix

    Middleburg Film Festival Brings Hollywood to Virginia

    For the last seven years, audiences have flocked to the Middleburg Film Festival. Running October 17th – 21st, and situated in the wine-country hills of historic Middleburg, Virg., the festival usually highlights some of the year’s buzziest titles, and 2019 is no exception. “We’re a smaller festival with fewer overall screenings than other events, so we [...]

  • Kelly McCormick and David Leitch'Fast &

    'Wheelman' Director to Helm 'Versus' From David Leitch, Kelly McCormick (EXCLUSIVE)

    “Wheelman” director Jeremy Rush is in negotiations to helm the action movie “Versus,” with Kelly McCormick and David Leitch producing. Rush will direct the Universal movie from a script penned by “Three Musketeers” scribe Alex Litvak and “American Assassin” writer Mike Finch. Plot details are being kept under wraps, though it will follow the genre [...]

  • Taika Waititi Jojo Rabbit Premiere

    Why Director Taika Waititi Decided to Play Adolf Hitler in 'Jojo Rabbit'

    “Fox Searchlight blackmailed me into doing it,” Taika Waititi told Variety of playing Adolf Hilter in “Jojo Rabbit” at the film’s premiere at American Legion Post 43 on Tuesday night in Hollywood. Staying mum when asked which other actors had been on his wish list to play the role, Waititi explained why he eventually decided [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content