Fusing the tried-and-trusted tropes of road movies and modern political satire, King of the Belgians offers just that bit more than the average mockumentary.
Shocked by a sudden upheaval in his homeland and a declaration of independence by a none-too-small band of locals, King Nicholas III of Belgium (Peter Van den Begin) must abandon his diplomatic jaunt in Istanbul to return home, only for a freak cosmic event to ground all flights; forcing him and his entourage to jaunt across the Balkans.
A documentary filmmaker in tow, intent on preserving Nicholas’ musings on Ataturk and foibles of Palace protocol, soon begins to capture the King’s less than glamorous traipsing through Europe.
Joyfully, the man behind the camera, as much a subject of this film as the King’s dutiful advisers, gets greatly more than a passing nod as is want to be the case with mockumentaries, figuring in a subplot of his own following a long-awaited return to Serbia and a heft of the on-camera action.
As the King is forced to go incognito and appear as part of a film crew some of King of the Belgians’ best laughs come through, as they do when the hapless advisers, at ease with rigorous pomp and ceremony, are suddenly forced to negotiate with some very nonplussed Bulgarians. Touching for the King’s apparent desire to get in touch with something other than royalist fanfare, a Spin City-esque scenario that never quite verges on outright absurdity or otherwise played too heavily for passing laughs succeeds through Van den Begin’s evident skill at balancing the King’s mounting frustration with his intemperate curiosity, often engaging hilariously with the Monarch’s newfound surroundings.
An uncommonly prescient focus on some of the EU’s highly political undercurrents, always subjects of vigorous debate yet as of today seething throughout Europe, too helps transfigure the mockumentary from its readily familiar road-movie roots into a wryly clever film which is about much more than getting from A to B.
King of the Belgians is playing at the Sydney Film Festival, for tickets head to the Festival website