A King And His Movie (1986)


Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB

Original Title: La película del rey

, 1986. . Screenplay by , Carlos Sorin. Cinematography by . Produced by , , . Music by . Production Design by . Costume Design by Margarita Jusid. Film Editing by .

A filmmaker being interviewed on a news program describes an upcoming project that he is very enthusiastic about, a feature film being planned around the story of Orélie-Antoine de Tounens, a mid nineteenth-century French lawyer who traveled to Patagonia and in 1860 declared himself its monarch.

The screen buzzes with excitement and effort as we cut to preproduction offices where period costumes are being donned in modern surroundings, director David Vass () is auditioning scores of actors for the lead and producer Arturo () is going mad trying to keep a hold on financing while appeasing his director’s increasingly outsized whims. When none of the actors who try out to play de Tounens are to David’s liking, he looks further afield, finding the perfect look and personality in a hippie who sells goods at a street fair and who is slow to accept the opportunity to be a film star.

Financing falls through and it’s a much smaller cast and crew who head south for location photography than was originally intended, but David is undeterred and believes the film can still be shot with the meagre handful of extras left to them. A local orphanage hosts the group during filming but, when one of the older male cast members is caught in flagrante with one of the young men from the village, anyone associated with the film loses their digs and have to live in tents, which inspires more resignations; now David is filming with a skeleton crew and using makeshift mannequins placed in the vast, haunting vistas of Patagonia as extras.

Like his subject, who ended up denied his sovereignty by the Chilean government and died in penury, David has also been infected by the strangeness of the landscape and is in danger of going down a similar rabbit hole, holding on to an almost quixotic obsession to keep filming despite the severely compromised circumstances. This buzzing, deeply funny satire on the indulgences of the film industry and the reality of creativity as both eternal inspiration and torment is smart and energetic, never cruel but certainly unforgiving in its portrayal of dedicated artists who just don’t know when enough is enough. It’s not as well known as the most popular film-within-film experiences out there, but to watch it alongside the likes of Day For Night is not to put it at any marked disadvantage.

Toronto International Film Festival: 1987

Venice Film Festival Award: Best First Work

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