‘The Kings Of The World’: San Sebastian Review

28 September, 2022

Laura Mora’s second feature follows five street kids from Medellin into the Colombian countyside as they try to claim what is theirs

Dir: Laura Mora. Colombia/Luxembourg/France/Mexico/Norway. 2022. 103 mins.

Five Medellin street kids undertake a road journey to potential freedom in the delirious, high urgency The Kings Of The World. Combining elements of the sweeping epic with moments of great sensitivity, Laura Mora’s follow-up to her much lower-key award-winning debut, 2017’s Killing Jesus, slips free of the shackles of straight realism early on. Sometimes dreamy, sometimes terrifying, this take on one young man’s dreams and nightmares propels the viewer forward on the kind of event and image roller coaster which some will find exhilarating, others exhausting. Its selection as part of San Sebastian’s official selection could briefly awaken distributor interest, although it is undoubtedly a challenging prospect.

Kings tells the story of 19 year-old Ra (Carlos Andres Castaneda). Living homeless on the streets of Medellin, he’s the undisputed leader of a gang of tough innocents consisting of Sere (Davison Florez), Nano (Brahian Acevedo), Winny (Cristian Campana), and the troublesome Culebro (Cristian David), who is always falling out of line. Ra soon discovers that he has inherited a house in a rural area a few hours away, the result of a Colombian government scheme to return properties to families displaced by FARC during the conflict. The five take to the road, and the story of their journey is the story of the film. At each stage someone will warn them about what they’re getting into: “Behave well,” one woman darkly advises them, “so they will kill you the last”.

One visually and aurally exciting early sequence shows them all drunk on their new freedom as, without a care in the world, they hitch their bikes to a truck and ride up the side of a majestic valley. They have fun releasing some cows and playing with an electric fence. But any notion the boys might have that life in rural Colombia is any less violent than its urban counterpart is quickly dispelled.

As in Killing Jesus, Mora is keen to play up the vulnerability behind the boys’ macho facade. After having spent a dreamy, swooning night in a roadside brothel with women who effectively become their mothers for a short while —the women themselves are probably the mothers of soldiers killed in the war—they’re kidnapped ater an altercation with a racist local. All escape except one, whittling the group down. And then, having survived attacks, kidnappings, and betrayals, the boys must surmount the greatest obstacle of all: a civil servant at the local government office.

Things play out on the always-fluid frontier between the real and the imaginary: the ‘real’ brothel scene is played up for its ethereal qualities, and an elderly couple they bump into later might well be ghosts. This dynamic is further complicated by the boys’ state of mind as they continue their journey. It’s almost as though the film’s style wishes to accompany them in their mounting delirium.

Whether sweeping across the intensely verdant mountain landscapes of Antioquia, tracing the journey of a shadow as it disappears from a patch of grass, or capturing in slow motion a bicycle tossed from a bridge in the fog, David Gallego’s camera work never misses a cinematic trick. Showing off it may be, but it chimes well with the general tone of brashness and exuberance that defines not only the film, but the boys themselves.

There are some downsides. The intermittently used poetic voiceover is surplus to requirements, while viewers’ tolerance of white horse symbolism will be tested to breaking point. Many will indeed find the air of excess about The Kings of the World off-putting. But it’s controlled excess, because it all issues from the appealing central figure of Ra, a leader in pursuit of revenge on society, but also of justice for his gang. In his romantic idealism, compared to the awful examples of humanity that litter their way (“human beings are f***ing horrible”, he notes at one point), Ra is indeed the king that the title tells us he is.

Article originally published on Screendaily by Jonathan Holland

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