1 item from 2001
Screening tonight at the Los Angeles Film Festival and opening Friday in New York (and May 11 in Los Angeles), "The King Is Alive" is a high-minded project that never lifts off as intended despite all the right elements seemingly coming together.
Boasting a strong international cast including Bruce Davison, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Janet McTeer and David Bradley, the IFC Films release could have used some Bunuelean black comedy to spice up the dreary tale of 10 hapless American and European tourists stranded in an African desert ? with beautiful dunes and abandoned mine buildings in Namibia standing in for a nameless North African locale.
A film with verve and conviction "by" Dogme 95 co-founder Kristian Levring ? who adheres more or less to the movement?s "vow of chastity" that calls for natural lighting, hand-held camerawork, no optical work or filters, etc. ? "King" has a premise that falls into the general migration of jaded Western artistic souls away from glossy visions of capitalist culture.
At the core of the film is an attempt by the increasingly worried and deteriorating characters to perform "King Lear" as scratched on paper from memory by one (Bradley) of their group.
In other words, it?s "Survivor" with a classy agenda, real actors and a few deaths to spice things up. But Dogme 95 flicks and "reality" TV shows have not swept away all other culture just yet, thankfully. As a story, "King" is jagged and underwhelming. There?s nothing inherently gratifying about watching a group of civilized people turn into brutes and pathetic victims of fate. As a sun-scorched rumination on the themes of "Lear", the movie can?t pull it off literally.
The setup has a rickety old bus driven by lost Moses (Vusi Kunene) running out of gas in the middle of nowhere. Several couples and lone travelers get out and seek shelter in derelict structures watched over by a desert-loving local (Peter Kubheka), who provides a poetic narration throughout. One experienced bloke (Miles Anderson) offers to go find help but warns of the danger they all face. Expecting to be back in five days, he sets off, and the others slowly starve, stand around in the sun and act foolishly, with the Bard to keep them sane.
Alas, Lear loses his reason and "King" gets blinded and lost in its wilderness of characters one doesn?t know or care much about. By the time Leigh?s desperate waif is enduring abuse from the one serious malcontent (David Calder), and Ray Davison) wanders off into the sands and finds out some discouraging news, the film?s tragic agenda has warmed up for a series of predictably nasty and miserable epiphanies.
As the remaining castaways, McTeer, Romane Bohringer, Brion James, Chris Walker and Lia Williams circle the movie like hungry predators. But Levring, who has worked for more than a decade as a commercial director, is trying to be the star and sucks up all the available air with his erratic style, leaving the viewer breathless in a bad way.
THE KING IS ALIVE
Newmarket and Good Machine International present a Zentropa Entertainments production
Screenwriters: Kristian Levring, Anders Thomas Jensen
Producers: Patricia Kruijer, Vibeke Windelov
Director of photography: Jens Schlosser
Editor: Nicholas Wayman Harris
Henry: David Bradley
Jack: Miles Anderson
Gina: Jennifer Jason Leigh
Liz: Janet McTeer
Catherine: Romane Bohringer
Charles: David Calder
Ray: Bruce Davison
Ashley: Brion James
Moses: Vusi Kunene
Kanana: Peter Kubheka
Running time ? 110 minutes
MPAA rating: R
1 item from 2001
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