King of the Belgians

Belgian Peter Brosens and American Jessica Woodworth persevere in teaming up with gratifying results. The pair of writer-directors, more self-assured than prolific, only released three movies in the last decade. If I regarded Altiplano (2009) as a big step in their careers, the totally engrossing The Fifth Season (2012) worked as a validation for their storytelling inventiveness and sure-footed filmmaking style.

Their new film is an adventurous comedy that, being told and shaped like a documentary, makes suitable the neologism mockumentary to better define it.

This road outing, hopping from country to country, takes some time to spread its charms, but when it does, we feel immersed in those feel-good vibes that radiate from the intention of saying bitter truths through a few good laughs.

“…being stranded is not a protocol followed by the humble king.”

We follow the well-behaved Nicolas III (Peter Van den Begin), the king of Belgium, whose activities are being filmed for a documentary. The man responsible for capturing the best frames during the most propitious occasions is the documentarian Duncan Lloyd (Pieter van der Houwen), who was hired by the king’s garrulous wife, Queen Ursula (Nathalie Laroche), to follow him everywhere. Lloyd, the film’s narrator, gladly joins the king in an official visit to Istanbul that aims to welcome Turkey into the EU. With them goes the faithful royal staff composed of the chief of protocol Ludovic Moreau (Bruno Georis), the press relations Louise (Lucie Debay), and the king’s personal valet Carlos (Titus De Voogdt).

Once in Turkey, they get the news that Belgium is no more since Wallonia just declared independence. In a rush to return home and better face the political crisis, Nicolas III sees an unforeseen solar storm hampering them to fly or even communicate by cell phone. However, being stranded is not a protocol followed by the humble king, who agrees in following a risky escape plan suggested by Lloyd. They get on a bus with a bunch of empathetic Bulgarian folk singers toward Sofia.

Their peculiar itinerary includes a ride on a tractor, a helpful hand from traditional Kukeri figures (remember the fantastic German dramedy Toni Erdmann?), and a visit to a rural village disguised of Belgium TV reporters. In Serbia, Lloyd bumps into an old pal and former sniper named Dragan (Goran Radakovic) and the group drinks traditional rakija until dawn, while in Albania they face trouble for having neither passports nor cash.

“…an unostentatious, solitary king discovers himself through the enjoyment of living an unforgettable adventure.”

With jocose lines, King of the Belgians is an undemanding offbeat caricature that turns up politically concise in its sayings, yet considerably stinging in its depictions, especially of the countries visited. The widely known internal contention between Walloons and Flemish in Belgium is briefly sneered, functioning as a contradiction of a country whose capital is also the capital of the EU.

In addition to an efficacious hand manipulation of the camera, credible acting, and whimsical musical variations of famous classical pieces, the film has the merit of framing with purpose both naturalistic settings and occasional mounted aesthetic composures.  

You may think of it as if Hunt for the Wilderpeople were transformed into a road-trip, in which an unostentatious, solitary king discovers himself through the enjoyment of living an unforgettable adventure.

King of the Belgians (2017) – Written and directed by Peter Brosens and Jessica Woodworth. Starring: Peter Van den Begin, Pieter van der Houwen, Bruno Georis, Lucie Debay, Titus De Voogdt.

7 out of 10

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