Miami 2022 Review: THE KING OF ALL THE WORLD, Live Through the Dance
Like a few other great European auteurs who began working in the 20th century, Spain's Carlos Saura (Raise Ravens, Peppermint Frappé) has steadily worked on a film every year or two for decades. Much of his work in the past two decades has been devoted to documentaries centred on music and dance from Spain, Portugal, and Argentina (Fados, Flamenco Flamenco). So it's not surprising that his first narrative film in almost 20 years would be a musical about theatre and dance.
In fact, The King of All the World is one long rehearsal, the creation of a piece of music and dance - Saura here making a story of the process of creation, with the highs and lows endured by its creators. Working with cinematographer Vittorio Storaro (Apocalypse Now, The Last Emperor), there are some amazing scenes with vibrant contemporary dance set to Mexican music (Lila Downs, Carlos Rivera, Fela Dominguez among those whose work is featured), beautifully shot and lit. The narrative itself, well, falls a little flat, despite its dramatic highs and lows of love, jealousy, and violence.
Theatre director Manuel (Manuel García-Rulfo) asks choreographer and ex-lover Sara (Ana de la Reguera) to create a musical with him - and she will be at the centre, as a woman who has survived a terrible car accident. From her wheelchair, she will choreograph the show, a task she finds both challenging and . The principal dancer Inés (Greta Elizondo) is a young hopeful from the poor outskirts of the city, and she has her own problems, with a father in trouble with a criminal gang and a another dancer harassing her. The film itself becomes this narrative, in part, moving between the show-within-a-show and the real lives of those creating it.
Like a reversal of many films, the stories - Inés and her struggles with the men in her life, Sara adapting to a difficult proposal - serve as the backdrop to the the creation of the show. It is a wonderful reconstruction of this theatrical process on screen - from the moment of concept, when Manuel is explaining his radical idea to Sara (which seems to mirror too much emotionally of their difficult relationship, and he and Sara are circling the stage in the empty theatre, their imaginations slowly gearing up. Then to the light and colour of dancers in workout clothes, the sweat and smiles and anger over getting the movement just right. The camera in one scene can be the audience member watching from their theatre seat, and other times they are the dancer, moving between the other bodies. This is when the film shines, and is joyous to watch.
But there is something lacking when the film switches to what's happening outside this creation. With a few exceptions, such as when Sara is alone, thinking of chereography, understanding the space she must inhabit for the role, or when she discovers the son of the janitor whose dancing ability is extraorindary, the energy is too similar to feel engaged with much of this secondary narrative. The film touches on the terrible violence that seems endemic to much of Mexico, and it's seen as much as it needs to be (just a few touches are all we need to understand its depth and horror). But given the romance, energy, and life when the dancers are on screen, it's hard not to proverbial tap a foot in impatience to get back to that. Saura has always worked hard to show how women suffer under the patriarchy, and here he's showing how more contemporary women are, or trying, to exert more power, but even that falls a little flat.
Still, perhaps this is a minor quibble: de la Reguera is an anchor for the cast and story, always lighting up the screen, and Storaro's beautiful work, which mingles cinema and theatre in perfect harmony, there is still so much to enjoy in The King of All the World that you can relish in the dancing and songs enough.
The King of all the World
- Carlos Saura
- Carlos Saura
- Ana de la Reguera
- Manuel Garcia-Rulfo
- Enrique Arce