What a fitting time this is for Alex Helfrecht and Jörg Tittel’s debut film to arrive. In an age where the actions of a newly-elected president result in the headlines painting what appears to be a prototype-dystopia that grows more vivid with each headline, The White King’s own brand of dystopian storytelling is all too vivid, even if at moments it struggles to find its own voice. The White King opens with an animated title sequence that features a generic, overpopulated metropolis crumble to dust thanks to an onslaught revolution marching over them. It recalls Pink Floyd’s The Wall’s marching hammers, but the same impact isn’t quite there.
Once the titles conclude however, the film itself begins, and ninety minutes later, we’re left with an intimate, sobering look at a film that veers between coming-of-age drama, political thriller, and vague science fiction. The White King avoids collapsing into feeling like a confusing mould of these genres however thanks to its emphasis on character. Our hero, schoolboy Djata, embarks on a rich, rewarding journey of growth as we witness his father, Peter, captured and imprisoned for daring to speak against the totalitarian government, The Homeland, Djata is growing up in.
We see this broken, unsettling world through his eyes. Much is hinted at but rarely resolved. We never know what caused this Orwellian-society to rise. We don’t know what exactly Peter was retaliating against that caused his imprisonment. We don’t even know the fate of Peter, Djata and his mother Hannah as the end credits roll. But does any of that really matter? It’s a testament to Alex and Jörg as filmmakers that they make the lack of a Hollywood-filter work for The White King. In an age where Hunger Games and Marvel emphasise the entertainment factor of dictatorships, The White King stands tall, defiant, and welcoming to the genre. Since when were dictatorships meant to be entertaining anyway?
That defiant stance is another jewel in The White King’s crown, especially in how fearless it is. The film’s story of Djata learning to survive in, and eventually retaliate against, the Homeland ripples with cold yet immersive tension. However, the story exudes natural confidence in its execution of that tension. It knows exactly when to pull you in and push you back. Locations in the film are sparse and barren, that opening sequence being the sole indicator of a metropolis within the world of The White King. That’s no bad thing however, the visuals of The White King serve as another cold, tense weapon in Jörg and Alex’s arsenal.
The vagueness of The White King can’t be underestimated however. Whilst such explanations stated above don’t detract from the film’s overall quality, your own enjoyment of the film could depend on how prepared you are to fill in the gaps The White King leaves for you. And trust us, thereare gaps. The White King carries with it an abstract conclusion that encourages, but not demands, you to continue thinking once the credits have rolled. And what better time to think about what The White King has to say? Bursting at the seams with intriguing concepts of morality, razor-sharp performances from its cast, and pieced together via some precise, sublime directing, The White King is a wonderfully troubled film for a not-so-wonderfully troubled world.
THE WHITE KING / CERT: TBC / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: ALEX HELFRECHT, JÖRG TITTEL / STARRING: LORENZO ALLCHURCH, JONATHAN PRYCE, OLIVIA WILLIAMS / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW