Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Archive for February 22nd, 2018

King of the Belgians ****

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 22nd February, 2018

King of the BelgiansLast night I was at Birkbeck College’s cinema in Gordon Square for the launch of a mini-season of Belgian films: Focus on Belgian Cinema. It was a bit of a nostalgia trip for me, as for most of the eight years I was based in Brussels as a journalist, I had a nice little side-line reviewing films for the English-language weekly there, The Bulletin (all of which figures in my forthcoming memoir of those Brussels years). At last night’s event, there were two excellent presentations by Belgian film critics/professors, outlining what has been happening in both French-speaking and Flemish-speaking movie making over the three decades since I left. The interesting point was made that films made (in French) in Wallonia-Brussels attract much bigger audiences outside Belgium than they do at home, whereas many of the Flemish films are locally popular. Belgium being Belgium, however, many films are effectively multi-lingual, including both French and Flemish (the latter sometimes in its very particular regional dialects), as well as German, English and so on. In fact, the film that followed the two talks — King of the Belgians (2016), directed by Peter Brosens and Jessica Hope Woodworth — included Turkish, Bulgarian and a snatch of Albanian, too. The film is a comic mockumentary, theoretically commissioned by the Belgian Queen, to try to make her rather stiff husband, King Nicolas III, seem more human. The King is beautifully played by one of Belgium’s leading actors, Peter van den Begin — tall, awkward and often at a loss for words (one could well imagine him a blood relative of the late King Baudouin, though no such caricature was officially intended).

The King and his faithful retainers get stranded in Turkey by freak weather which means that planes are grounded, so the little group has to turn to more unorthodox means of transport to return home via the Balkans, when Wallonia declares independence (a nice touch, as it is Flemish nationalists who sometimes call for independence for Flanders). Most of the film is thus an often funny road movie, as disaster piles upon disaster and the King and his entourage of three (plus the putative Scottish documentary maker) try to pass incognito through sometimes risky lands. Along the journey, there are many nice asides about Belgian life and the pomp and circumstance of royal protocol, but the King himself, probably encountering normal people in a natural way for the first time in his life, gradually opens up and begins to savour the world around him — a sort of middle-aged coming of age.

The rest of the Focus on Belgian Cinema mini-season is taking place at the Ciné Lumiere at the French Institute in South Kensington over the next four days, and includes a number of Q&A’s with directors of the films being screened, including André Bonzel and his black crime comedy, Man Bites Dog. Bookings through http://www.institut-francais.org.uk

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