Bath Film Festival 2017 · Female Filmmakers · Film · Review

Alive at the Bath Film Festival: King of the Belgians

I had a tutor in university who was a total cunt. Like irredeemable, one of the worst people you could ever meet. Like a total self-absorbed bastard, the sort whose lectures take rough and wild swings into total self-aggrandisement when you’re just trying to get your learning done. He taught a film module and at the end of our second year while we was editing the final project for the class he got fired for verbally and physically assaulting some students and staff.

It had been a long time coming, I think everyone was really sick of his shit by that point. Also he had written and directed what was literally the worst play I’ve ever seen. Like, studying acting you end up seeing a lot of bad student plays but this thing was literally the hottest fucking garbage ever. Friends and I meeting up years later will still be able to talk for literal hours on everything wrong with it, it’s maybe the most memorable thing I have ever seen.

Peter Brosens & Jessica Hope Woodworth, the writer/directors of King of the Belgians didn’t literally write this asshole into their script (probably), but holy fuck the resemblance is uncanny. They’ve inserted a character who talks like him, looks like him, and is as absolutely as unlikable as this toxic bellend who I was forced to learn from for a frustrating and unhappy term. Kinda sours the movie a bit.

This is in impartial terms as well. The character is in the fiction the filmmaker of this documentary about the King of Belgium. He’s dismissive of the subject of his film, has the most grating and pretentious voiceover, and is constantly hitting on (and having the camera leer over) the only woman in the joint. Why do that? It’s a charming, thoroughly edgeless, warm hearted comedy about an out of place King and his stuffy staff having to go on an impromptu and underfunded roadtrip across Eastern Europe in order to get back home in time to halt an ongoing crises.

It's got a good concern for composition

Who looks at that and goes,’ But what if one character was a bastard?’ It makes no sense, the dude is such a drag on the entire film, and cos of the mockumentary format you feel his presence in every single frame. It’s not a bad performance, it’s uncanny, but if you’re trying to make Little Miss Sunshine, The Mockumentary, it’s just poison.

Because outside of this one dude the film is pretty much Little Miss Sunshine, The Mockumentary, replete with the low ambition and easy charm. Peter Van den Begin, with his crumply yet somehow still attractive face, plays the King of Belgium on a diplomatic trip to Istanbul. There to read a speech prepared by The Prime Minister and act respectable around dignitaries. Then Wallonia succeeds from Belgium; and a solar storm grounds all air travel; and the Turkish diplomats, in order to avoid an international spectacle, decide to sequester him in the hotel.

So his staff, led by this filmmaker who desires to capture some of the legitimacy of his previous work, decide to break him out and embark on a cross country chase back home. Course they get in some minor scrapes, they lose their bags pretty early on and so have to turn to the generosity of strangers to help them find their way. They sample the local colour, get drunk, get in and out of trouble, get lost and find themselves, come to terms with the urgency and distance of political life.

See, it's zany

It’s a slight work, but one that largely hits the beats it needs to. Bruno Georis makes a good stick in the mud type. Lucie Debay handles a lot of the more comic moments, her reaction shots are the best of anyone here. The mockumentary shit ain’t really nothing revolutionary but it works well enough, it carries its weight. The characters learn the lessons they need to in good time, with the exception of the filmmaker dude who don’t change, lean nothing, and is given the richest reward of all.

It’s fine, and functional, not arty enough for the art houses, not popular enough for the multiplexes. But if you want something mostly fine to play around your (maybe a little bit racist) aunts and uncles at some holiday party to convince them that you’re a connoisseur who can find the foreign language gems that are accessible to all, it’s a solid pick.

Other than that it don’t really got too much worth.

King of the Belgians don’t currently appear to have a release date, but then I can’t find it for sale anywhere so I don’t have no clue.

Some nice landscape shots here too
Images courtesy of Bo Films

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