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VENICE 2022 Out of Competition

Series review: The Kingdom Exodus


- VENICE 2022: The long-overdue finale to Lars von Trier’s 1990s cult series offers a bombastic concoction of the greatest hits from yesteryear

Series review: The Kingdom Exodus
Mikael Persbrandt in The Kingdom Exodus

Out of competition at the Venice International Film Festival was the very venue for the world premiere of The Kingdom in 1994. Back then, enfant terrible auteur Lars von Trier had provoked and intrigued the international arthouse scene with titles like Element of Crime and Europa. The Kingdom, a television miniseries about an angry Swedish doctor at a haunted Copenhagen hospital, was full of local references and was primarily aimed at Danish living rooms, with marginal international prospects. The screams of laughter and the standing ovations from the Venice audience took him by surprise, as did the critical acclaim for this “left-hand job”, as he preferred to label it. Three years later, The Kingdom II opened in the same locale to similar reactions, and now, 28 years later, the ritual is repeated as the long-overdue final, five-hour chapter finally sees the light of day, dubbed The Kingdom Exodus [+see also:
interview: Hubert Toint and Mark Denes…
series profile

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Completion of the saga has been marred by an alarming number of deaths within the original ensemble, and when approached on the matter, Trier has usually dismissed the idea of rounding it all off. That is, until a recent change of heart, a gathering of the survivors from the original cast, a handpicked assemblage of stellar new players and an updated script, befitting the 2022 recital. Together with chronic somnambulist Karen Svensson (Bodil Jørgensen), we start out watching the closing minute of The Kingdom II (self-references are plentiful throughout), and soon, she finds herself in the real realm, where strangeness abounds and chaos reigns as before. There’s also a new Swedish neurosurgical clinic head appointed, one Dr Stig Helmer Jr (a fully charged Mikael Persbrandt), every bit as pro-Swede and Dane-adverse as his namesake predecessor – and also his son. He promptly starts furnishing his office, making a generous order of IKEA paraphernalia, only to be told that such expenses will not be covered by the hospital. He will also share his precedence with the well-meaning and conflict-shy Dr Pontoppidan (Lars Mikkelsen), a worthy successor to Dr Moesgaard from the first series, whose “Operation Morning Air” initiative has clearly inspired the new “Operation Open Doors” policy at the clinic, again to Helmer Jr’s chagrin. He has some adamant policies of his own to impose – specifically, regarding gender and representation issues, something the incorrect Danes lack all sense of (still, he gets tangled up in a costly harassment case of his own, cheerfully abetted by Tuva Novotny and Alexander Skarsgård). In the meantime, sleepwalker Mrs Svensson continues her quest into the deep and diabolical layers of the hospital, where both Mona and Lillebror (Laura Christensen and a spectacular return by Udo Kier) roam around in dire need of deliverance. There’s a bombastic Wagner and Bergman homage, a secret Swedes Anonymous fellowship, a pair of wonderfully strange dish-washers and much more. It’s safe to conclude that The Kingdom Exodus offers a veritable “greatest hits” of the silly universe so seriously concocted by von Trier together with his then co-screenwriter Niels Vørsel. Striving to be as seamless as possible in its recreation of what, to many, is already perfection, there’s plenty of vintage atmosphere to be enjoyed by cultists near and far.

Looking back at von Trier’s body of work and its different reincarnations, the mid-1990s proved quite a watershed. He would move from a tightly controlled, image-obsessed style, garnished with fetish-like minutiae, into a loose and liberated anti-aesthetic (concretely exemplified via the Dogme 95 manifesto that would soon enter existence), turning his directing focus towards actors and his writing psychologically inwards, toning down, if not altogether abandoning, the broader humorous aspects along the way. Without a doubt, the creative process surrounding The Kingdom, while still with one foot in the old camp, pushed everything forwards, with a different director emerging afterwards. The 2022 return to this era of yesteryear reminds some of us, somewhat nostalgically, that we have indeed been missing early “left-hand” Lars – and that it was worth the wait to get to meet him again.

The Kingdom Exodus was produced by Denmark’s Zentropa Entertainments, and co-produced by Sweden’s Film i Väst and Zentropa Sweden, plus Belgium’s Ginger Pictures. Its sales are managed by TrustNordisk.

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