Alex Helfrecht and Jörg Tittel's new film The White King, which made its European debut at Black Nights festival last week, is an all-too-familiar look at a dystopian future, about a boy living in a totalitarian regime. In my review, I called the film an impressive debut, a fascinating adaptation of how a child would view and attempt to understand forces and an environment beyond his control. I saw down with the writer-director team (also husband and wife) to talk more about the film, their inspriation, their vision, and how they work together.
Screen Anarchy: How did you discover the book?
Alex Helfrecht: It landed on my desk when I was working for some producers in London. It has been translated into more than 20 languages and has been critically acclaimed. I read it and fell in love with it; by page three I was crying. The boy was such a fascinating character, because he was part naive, and part intelligent. There was a surreal layer to the book which made me think there was something big about it. I thought it would be a great project for Jörg and I to combine our sensibilities, with an emotionally driven film, but also have a big canvas to work on. Something about it reminded me of Tom Sawyer, this adventure story but with this totalitarian world at the periphery. The regime is never really explained in the book; the author said it was inspired by his childhood in Romania, but he thought it could be anywhere in the world.
Jörg Tittel: To him, growing up in that place felt like when he watched A Clockwork Orange, this unreality, because it's so bizarre, that human behaviour could come to this. And so we though about how we would style this. The approach was then to augment the landscape, move it slightly into the future. We ended up shooting in Hungary, which brought the film back to its roots. But there are certain American elements in it. The cars are American.
Alex: And in the opening animation sequences, the water towers, which always feel very American to me. So the story really could be set anywhere.