Thursday, December 14, 2017

DVDebut: smart dystopian young-adult viewing in Alex Helfrecht/Jörg Tittel's THE WHITE KING

So much better than mainstream young-adult schlock like The Hunger Games franchise, the practically unheralded but intelligent and evocative movie THE WHITE KING has rather popped out of nowhere. Making its USA debut on DVD via Film Movement on its new genre label Omnibus Entertainment, the movie had theatrical debuts in both the UK and Hungary (it's a UK/Germany/ Sweden/Hungary co-production), but due to its lack of big-name stars or blockbuster status, it is likely to be lost in the year-end shuffle. That's too bad because it is actually a surprisingly intelligent, thoughtful and even subtle work.

Given what the young adult crowd is currently being fed -- from those games that are definitely from hunger to pointless feel-bad-so-you-can-feel-good nonsense such as The Maze Runner, The Fifth Wave, If I StayThe Fault in Our Stars, that Divergent/Insurgent/Detergent series and really quite a bunch more -- by comparison this film comes across as very nearly classic. Co-adapted (from the novel by György Dragomán) and co-directed by Alex Helfrect and Jörg Tittel (shown above, with Ms Helfrecht on the left), the movie simply positions you, along with the family that is at its center, in media res, and in a society for which are given no explanation of what it is or how it works.

Slowly much -- but by no means all -- is revealed and we learn that we're residing in a bucolic dystopia (a very nice change from the usual) in which any dissension is stomped, with the dissenter labeled "traitor." This happens first to the father (Ross Partridge, above,center) of our 12-year-old hero, Djata (Lorenzo Allchurch, above, right), and then to his mom (Agyness Deyn, above left).

Our boy's grandparents (Jonathan Pryce, above, right) and Fiona Shaw (above, center) prove little help, brainwashed as they are by the state, and even his friends (below), cowed by their own parents, can do little to aid him. The film seems less interested in making Djata into any kind of super-hero or even into the usual feel-good, happy-ending movie hero. Instead, it concentrates its energy and ideas into what, exactly, makes up a fascist state, how it has become such and where this inevitably leads.

Early on, dad gives a few words of advice to his son, and we see that advice borne out again and again as the film continues. The manner in which the state uses (and uses up) its populace is shown to us and to Djata in ways that are both awful and surprising, and while the movie does not end on an exactly sour note, it certainly does not offer the "happy"ending-with-built-in-sequel that so many young adult movies do these days.

Instead, The White King (truthfully, I am not sure to what this title refers: Maybe to the huge statue that overlooks the whole countryside) offers a moral that kids, as well as their parents, could do well to ponder: Give the fascist state your obeisance, and you're its slave for life. Within the film, however there are plenty of thrills and adventure, shown most interestingly in what lies inside the fenced off forest where citizens are not allowed.

From Film Movement/Omnibus Entertainment and running a sleek 89 minutes, the movie hit DVD and digital last week on December 4 -- for purchase and/or rental.

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