The King Is Alive



Denmark 2000
dir. Kristian Levring
scr. Levring, Anders Thomas Jensen
cin. Jens Schlosser
stars David Calder, Jennifer Jason Leigh, David Bradley, Janet McTeer

It’s happened to us all: one minute you’re happily touring the Namibian outback, the next minute your bus has conked out, stranding you and your fellow travellers in an abandoned mining camp. And of course, as the hours pass into days, and the sun beats down, and you realise you’re going to run out of food and water, you do the obvious thing: stage an amateur production of King Lear – from memory!

OK, so the premise of the fourth and last of the ‘proper’ dogme 95 movies (after Festen, Idiots and Mifune) takes a fair bit of swallowing. But it’s worth it – this is a dazzling black joke of a movie that manages to entertain and disturb in roughly equal measure. There’s plenty of sound and fury along the way, and, even if you end up suspecting that it really does signify not very much, it’s never less than fascinating to puzzle over and look at, the digital cameras endowing the desert dunes with a compellingly eerie, alien majesty.

It’s an actor’s dream, of course, all that hell-is-other-people claustrophobia, plus the Shakespeare stuff, and the terrific cast play it to the hilt, reaching a hypnotic intensity during the final, deadly-serious campfire reading of the play. Leigh provides great value as a dim-bulb sex kitten, but it’s the scarily intense McTeer who zings home all the best lines, breezily summing up the drama for her unscholarly husband: “It’s about this King – he’s got a couple o’kids … Nobody has to fall in love, and everybody gets to die in the end.”

(rewrite : for lengthier original review written August 2000, click here)

May 23rd, 2001

by Neil Young
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