The White King

Reviewed by John Porter

The final screening of Keswick Film Club's current season took us to the unspecified dystopian land of 'The White King' (2016, Alex Helfrecht and Jorg Tittel). Djata (Lorenzo Allchurch) is a young boy living with his parents, and as the story opens they are all relaxing by a river. Everything looks idyllic until a tilt of the camera reveals an enormous statue across the valley striking a vaguely soviet pose, and following a few cautious conversations about the figure depicted, they leave. On the way home Djata's father is taken by some form of secret police, which sets up the remainder of the narrative as somewhere between a fatherless child's quest for meaning and a picture of repressive regimes.

The vision of society created in 'The White King' feels home-made and precarious, as if this new order (at one point we see the thirtieth anniversary celebrations) is being cobbled together from bits of the old. We are never quite sure where the borders are or what lies beyond them, leading us into a child's eye view of the world with certain areas of the landscape feeling vivid and disjointed from the rest as if conjured up from memory, one scene to reclaim a stolen football from a rival gang taking place on an abandoned watchtower surrounded by flaming ricks of hay. The movie is full of great ideas but the narrative is often contrived, relying heavily on unbelievable coincidences and sudden unexplained changes of heart from the characters as if the proceedings were being strung together around set pieces already designed.

The script takes itself very seriously, yet the dialogue is clumsy and does no favours for a strong cast whose performances often come across as forced and unnatural. Djata and his mother (Agyness Deyn) continue without his father with scenes often seeming to drag with little relevance or visual flare. There is a hint at an interesting sub-text involving technology, piles of broken computers found by Djata in a cave beneath the statue of the Founder and a chess playing android in the house of the General. This is never explored further however, and like much of the movie, feels like a wasted opportunity.

After an anti-climactic final scene, a military vehicle drives away inconceivably slowly so as to allow time for Djata to run behind crying as the camera pans out. His mother too joins in with the strained hysteria, riding a bike but still unable to catch up with either the child or the crawling truck. Emotions are placed into the scenes with the same heavy hand as the scenarios: Built with little continuity or regard for logic they are played out with much affected zeal, but this unfortunately undermines the carefully designed premise with an air of the phoney.