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3 reviews, 4 user ratings

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King is Alive, The
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by Chris Parry

"An adventure where less is so much more."
5 stars

The Dogme movement is still around. And not only is it around, but the set of cinematic rules dreamed up by Lars Von Trier's Dogme 95 collective has been taken to another level by Kristian Levring's The King Is Alive - a tale about a group of travelers stranded in an all-but-abandoned mining village in the Namibian desert. Starring Jennifer Jason Leigh, Janet McTeer and the final performance of Brion James, King Is Alive manages to follow all of Dogme's strict rules restricting lighting, sound and effects, and comes out the other end looking like a relative epic.

No artificial lighting. No sound that wasn't recorded with the pictures. No props that aren't found naturally on the location. No tripod for the camera. No directorial credit. It's a tough gig this Dogme business. Minimalization and bringing everything back to the story and performers is the ideology behind the movement, but most people see such ideals as restricting a film to an arty, foreign, shaky-cam affair that holds limited interest in the commercial world. The King Is Alive is the antithesis of that thinking and shows that, with some creativity and restraint, a filmmaker can stretch a hand full of bucks a very long way.

Never trust a compass. The bastards will conspire to send you 500 miles off course and way into the middle of the desert, where fuel is as scarce as water and the absence of external stimulation can drive you stark raving bonkers. That's the situation these travelers find themselves in. Stranded far from home, with no communication with the outside world, barely any food and only dew for water, what are a group of annoyed tourists to do while they wait for help?

Well, these guys decide to put on a production of King Lear. Well, it beats counting grains of sand.

Shot entirely on location in Namibia and with nothing more than canned carrots, empty buildings, a lot of sand and actors from around the world, this film is a breathtaking spectacle and intriguing character study. Nothing really happens, but Levring manages to keep things tight enough (and stark enough) to keep you riveted to your seat. Shot entirely on digital video, it does take a while to get used to the lesser picture quality emblazoned across the big screen, but once you're into the story the technical limitations of digi-video picture quality seem far out weighed by the smaller cameras ability to go places a lunky 35mm camera couldn't manage - and the graininess of each shot almost seems to have more life than the clarity of Kodak.

Levring spent $2m on The King Is Alive, which initially seems a lot considering the lack of crew and film processing requirements, but when you consider that a film shot on location in the Africa desert by the Hollywood studios would seem a snip at $60m, the rules of Dogme start to seem much more than a thumb in the eye of conventional wisdom - they begin to resemble what perhaps conventional wisdom should be. Less is more. Keep it simple, stupid.

And The King Is Alive does more, with less, than 98% of the films you'll see from Hollywood in the next year.

A remarkable technical and budgetary achievement, a stunning piece of cinema, and well worth your time.

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originally posted: 05/02/01 09:20:38
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User Comments

7/18/04 Fernando the best dogma ever 5 stars
4/03/04 Eugene Powerful - Honest 5 stars
8/19/01 kirsten great movie 5 stars
8/06/01 kirsten very good 5 stars
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  11-May-2000 (R)



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