TIFF 2011: ‘The Boy Who Was a King’ – A film overshadowed by its subject

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The Boy Who Was a King

Directed by Andrey Paounov

2011, Bulgaria/Germany, 90 mins.

 

Based on its subject alone, The Boy Who Was a King should be an interesting film. Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha was a boy of only six when he became Tsar of Bulgaria in the middle of the Second World War. He was nine when he was deposed by the communists and exiled. Finally, he is one of few monarchs to regain power not through violence, but through the ballot box when he was elected Prime Minister of Bulgaria in 2001. His life is an incredible one; it is a shame that this film does not quite do it justice.

Watching The Boy Who Was a King is a mixed experience. Like most historical documentaries, it is primarily a mix of archival footage and present day interviews (though it would be remiss to not mention a rather quirky puppet show about the Tsar’s treatment at the hands of the communists). The archival footage is easily the best part of the film and is drawn from all stages of Simeon’s life—from the Tsar as a small boy inspecting the troops to the ex-Tsar’s return from exile. Simeon occasionally provides commentary.

A particularly charming example is in order: when Simeon was a young boy, a general who commanded the air force gave him a pedal plane. For his very first phone conversation, Simeon thanked the general—and then hung up, because he was nervous and couldn’t think of what else to say. Simeon’s father was furious.

That said, the film also consists of a great deal of footage that is mostly peripheral and entirely too protracted anyway. We hear from a taxidermist, some Bulgarians on the Nile, an immigrant Japanese couple, and more, all ad nauseum. That last bit is the problem. Were their segments short and to the point, the taxidermist and Japanese immigrants could be quirky tidbits in an interesting milieu. However, their segments are long and beside the point, and watching them is strenuous exercise. This is a film that doesn’t know what the keep, and what to throw away.

This is not to say that The Boy Who Was a King lacks appeal—merely that its appeal has been unnecessarily limited to an audience with great patience. This is a shame. Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha’s story is an interesting one, if inexpertly told.

 

–       Dave Robson

 

The Toronto International Film Festival runs from September 8th to the 18th. Tickets, schedules, and other information can be found on the festival’s website.


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