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While shifting airports by bus in Africa, a group of passengers is driven to the middle of nowhere in the desert by the driver that is following a defective compass. They run out of gas and they reach a ghost village inhabited by a single man, Kanana. One passenger that has experience with desert gives five advices to the others to survive in the spot, among them to keep the spirit high, while he travels through the desert seeking for help. One intellectual in the stranded group suggests the performance of King Lear to keep the morale of the survivors. Along the days, while hope decreases, the tension increases among the survivors. Written by
Claudio Carvalho, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Imagine a GILLIGAN'S ISLAND set in the African desert in modern times. Add people nowhere near as jaunty as the Skipper or Marianne--and enough angst to fill a German psychiatrist's office. Throw in a plot that manages to be interesting only episodically and literary parallelism that never delves deeply enough to truly satisfy. Season with a truly morose topic that's been exploited since the first world travelers found themselves very, very lost.
If THE KING IS ALIVE weren't a product of the reigning czars du jour of Dogme 95, would this film be garnering as much attention? Dogme 95 is to Hollywood as Danish modern is to rococo. A byproduct of digital technology, this Scandinavian movement seeks--quite dogmatically--to strip away artificiality in film-making, by using more natural elements and returning to the essence of storytelling. PEARL HARBOR, for instance, is the Dogme Antichrist.
Director/co-author Kristian Levring's saga ponders interpersonal relations and human nature when placed under the fire of a life-threatening situation. Eleven people aboard a bus riding through the Namibian sand dunes suddenly find themselves stranded in the remains of an abandoned town. An African local who does not speak their language serves as observer and narrator (whose insights are among the film's most trenchant). As the strongest heads off for a five-day walk to the nearest village, the others stay behind, surviving on dented-canned carrots and circumambulating their likely future as vulture chow. Former thespian Henry decides that this rather unappealing crew needs a diversion, and hand-writes KING LEAR from memory. He assigns roles, and the group passes many days learning lines and rehearsing, in an effort to divert their attention from the seemingly inevitable.
Gradually the cast begins to lose it, and the savageries of their natureor, William Golding might say, human naturebegin to surface. If you've ever seen LORD OF THE FLIES, you know that these things can get ugly, that being in a lifeboat situation can turn even Mother Teresa into the PMSing termagant of Calcutta.
The film was shot using an international ensemble of American, English, French and South African actors, who, the Dogme dogma dictates, develop themselves and their roles quite organically. THE KING was also filmed chronologically, adding a sense of realism to the ever-increasing desperation of its characters. After up to three hand-held cameras shot in digital, results were transferred to 35mm film.
The performance that compels most comes from Jennifer Jason Leigh, who plays a boho Pop Tart trying to bolster the spirits of the group in any and every way she can. Henry (David Bradley) is another finely played character, whose passion for his life's work ultimately saves the gang from utter despair. It's hard to feel too sorry for the otherscruel wives and their oafish husbands, hirsute old womanizers, sulky French intellectuals, wealthy men who have more important places to be than marooned in the Namibian desert. Beckett might hate this question, but why is this group riding a bus together through remote Africa in the first place? Life-threatening morbidity! Utter despair rendered in graphic detail! A relentlessly tedious pace! Enjoy.
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