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The King is Dead! by Rolf de Heer

December 21, 2012

Rolf de Heer is the most underrated director around, some of his work has obtained a kind of cult status – Bad Boy Bubby – or has received a good deal of attention from the international film critic community – The Tracker – but after fourteen features I suspect he will never been recognized as the great filmmaker he is, though he has already got home with minor awards from Venice and Cannes campaigns. My guess is that the trouble with de Heer is his constantly shifting interest for movie styles and genres, if you look at the work of the most celebrated directors working today you see a perpetual repetition of the same kind of story, it seems that to be recognized as important you need to establish some kind of trademark.

de Heer’s perpetual feature is his quirky and original screenwriting style and The King is Dead! is one more brilliant example of his talent. It’s a highly original and – being so – unpredictable dark comedy where – how to put it avoiding spoilers? – well, let’s say the characters from Polanski’s Carnage meet the ones from Friedkin’s Killer Joe.

In the opening scene we meet Otto, a guy who looks and acts like a chef though he is cooking a very peculiar recipe. He is frying a ton of garlic, when his wife asks what he is doing Otto explains to her – and to us! – that the neighboring house at their right is for sale and it’s open inspection day: he doesn’t want neighbors who dislike garlic, so he goes unseen along the fence to spread the perfume from his pan. A married couple in their early thirties – no kids – buys the house, during open inspection they have had a brief but courteous encounter with Otto’s family, so they have met nice neighbors and the location is very practical: they can walk to the train station in less than 10 minutes! Alas … they have not met the neighbors at their right.

A lesser director/screenwriter would have done a lot of poor obvious things with such a subject, not de Heer, he is in constant control of his film and he keeps it far from the obvious solutions, he manages to mix hilarious with scary, he raises the tension and scales it down, he makes you care for these unfortunate and quirky but lovable characters. The whole cast deserves to be appreciated but  the king himself – Gary Waddell – is really great and so are most of the scumbags on his side of the fence, on the other side in a film so filled with eccentric characters the lovely Bojana Novakovic manages to give the right tone to her Therese.
Once again a de Heer film will make my top 10 of the year.

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  1. Top 10 Films of the Year (2012) « I Smoke Cigars

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