Review: El Rey
by Alfonso Rivera
- Alberto San Juan and Valentín Alvarez transform the controversial, combative and successful play by El Teatro de Barrio into a brave new film
The 15th Seville European Film Festival has inaugurated a new section called Endless Revolutions, which welcomes "rebellious young spirits, who go that bit further,” according to a description by Elena Duque in the event programme. In this part of the festival, which is supposed to "bring together films whose courage flirts with suicide," one title in particular stands out: El Rey [+see also:
film profile], the first feature film by the duo Alberto San Juan (who we recently saw in The Furies [+see also:
film profile]) and Valentín Alvarez, an adaptation of a play written by the former, on stage just a few months ago, where it was greeted with applause, as well as some controversy. The film questions the very recent history of a sleepy and passive Spain, after a cruel dictatorship and a somewhat questionable transition to democracy.
As in the play, the film only stars three actors (San Juan, Guillermo Toledo and Luis Bermejo from Magical Girl [+see also:
interview: Carlos Vermut
film profile]) and spans more than half a century of Spanish history, with Luis Bermejo as Juan Carlos I (father of the current king, Philip VI), and the other two actors playing fundamental figures of twentieth century Spain with great talent and conviction, along the lines of Adolfo Suarez, Francisco Franco, and Felipe Gonzalez.
If the actors’ reserved performances are one of the film's best assets, its mise-en-scene is just as minimalist: everything plays out in a single space where just a few objects feature (a throne, a cigarette, glasses...) in order to conjure up – with the use of good light, sound, shade and décor – certain atmospheres and psychological states.
Although the film only includes a few ingredients, the result is certainly not lacking in flavour. Without falling into obvious or uncouth criticism, El Rey focuses on the life of an old man who no longer has the power he once had and watches as the ghosts of moments that have transformed him into who he is play out in front of him: someone who has always attempted to go down in history, but at what cost?
Moving from hallucinatory comedic moments (the scene with the boat is something else) to moments of extreme terror (where the fear of the worst punishments imaginable are used to dominate people), the film – presented as a shadowy comedic drama – is nightmarish and employs various true statements (taken from books and interviews) made by Juan Carlos I and other real people, who are brought back to life here, to create a fiction film based on facts and real-life characters, who ask questions and pick apart the official versions of past events, unsatisfied with previous accounts.
El Rey, shot in one week with a budget of €50,000 obtained by crowdfunding, was produced by Alberto San Juan and El Teatro del Barrio. The film’s photography was entrusted to Valentin Álvarez (How Much Does Your Building Weigh, Mr Foster? [+see also:
film profile]), with compositions by Albert Pla, Chicho Sanchez Ferlosio and Johann Sebastian Bach, among others.
(Translated from Spanish)
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