Transcendental Crusades

in 43rd Havana International Festival of the New Latin American Cinema

by Daniel Céspedes Góngora

How does Laura Mora Ortega’s The Kings of the World (Los Reyes del Mundo, 2022) seem to operate within the bounds of realism before moving, almost without the viewer expecting it, towards a realm that flirts with simulation? To make matters worse, some may accuse the film of symbolic obviousness, due to the presence of a white steed that the boy Rá sometimes rides or simply watches grazing alone. Symbolic obviousness? This claim should not be directed at the horse, much less to a certain moment established between dogs that become violent in an instant, or the tension that, little by little, develops between the boys. How dare that beardless ringleader leave the capital of Antioquia to venture into the monstrous jungle? The possible restitution of land taken from her grandmother is not enough. The streets of a heartbreaking Medellín excrete it into an unexplored context. Since the Colombian city was born, it has disregarded “nobody’s” children like her.

If the filmmaker takes care of anything, it’s obviousness and predictability. The crusade of The Kings of the World begins with raw realism and violence,  then meddles in the complex territories of the timeless, the dreamlike, and a certain folklore of fantastical instability and Rulfo-like ambiance.

Flirting with the road movie genre is not enough for Mora Ortega. The protagonists enjoy the journey in their own way, because the search for a place to belong is not all that matters. They aim to continue together in a brotherhood bound in mischief and dirt, misfortunes and resistance.

The symbolic part of the story starts before the protagonists’ arrival in the countryside, before one knows of the contrast between characters. Being foreigners in their own country provides a difficult setting for change. A bitter effect operates on the protagonists as if they were reproaching themselves and the country they cannot abandon. It is also a matter of internal exile, that contemporary phenomenon in which society and politics are involved in casting citizens away from zones of belonging or comfort.

And it is thus that a realistic feature film includes in its story vicissitudes concerning the surprising and attractive “unbelievability” of what is accepted. In a tavern, mature women act as low-profile prostitutes, when in fact they are in full capacity to procure motherly hugs from the pilgrim bachelors. Between caresses and silences, some of these lovely twilights cry and complain. The grotesque has no place here, neither for the concealing night nor for the daytime setting where some ostensible order is returned.

The previous situation is magical; the director‚ however‚ manages to subvert it by revealing the vitality of her antiheroes via technical mastery‚ which is an expressive allusion so suggestive that it transcends the physical journey itself, not only of the young protagonists, but of other presences that slowly pass by and are heard walking through the jungle. Where are they going—or are they returning? The fate of The Kings of the World could have ended there, but Mora Ortega extends the journey. Observational intentions prevail, as it attended fiction from the beginning. Suddenly, the number of boys changes. Already serene, moved on a floating island, the apathy of the jungle can also be inferred in their presence. They no longer are in a world of their own.

Daniel Céspedes Góngora
Edited by José Teodoro