The Kings Of The World


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

The Kings Of The World
"The use of a bike that is simultaneously broken and enhanced is a perfect encapsulation of the idea of things being caught between two states in the film." | Photo: Courtesy of San Sebastian Film Festival

The dreamy surreal and harshest of realities rub shoulders in Laura Mora Ortega’s San Sebastián Golden Shell-winning drama, which also suggests the past and the present have a closer interplay than you might first think. Her tale of five street kids hoping to claim a patch of ancestral land often has the tone of a fable, emphasised by its opening near-post-apocalypic opening of a city street, empty of everything except a white horse, in which a voiceover notes: “One day all the men fell asleep and all the fences of the Earth burst into flames.”

This world of foreboding calm is quickly replaced by the tumble of life for a group of homeless teens - Cuebro (Cristian David), Sere (Davison Florez), Nano (Brahian Acevedo) and Winny (Cristian Campaña) - led by the streetwise Rá (Carlos Andrés Castañeda). A brighter future than the streets of Medellin is held out in tantalising prospect when Rá learns that, via a restitution process to help those dispossessed during the Columbian conflict, he has inherited a patch of land in the countryside once owned by his gran.

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The news proves a trigger for a road trip for the group, although there’s a suggestion from the outset that the shimmering hope represented by the land may be as intangible as the pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. In many stories like this, adversity for a group of young men would trigger Lord Of The Flies style splintering, but Ortega keeps the faith with her lads, showing how aside from an increasingly violent tension between Cuebro and Rá, they pull together in adversity rather than apart. Ortega, whose film is crammed with arresting imagery, pulls us into the almost terrifying exhilaration of the first part of this, as the kids use a broken yet pimped bike as a means of transport, as they let a truck tow them along mountain roads. There’s a chaotic energy here that never loses sight of the youngsters’ vulnerability - machetes and cheek can only take you so far.

The use of a bike that is simultaneously broken and enhanced is a perfect encapsulation of the idea of things being caught between two states in the film. The on-edge existence of the gang is mirrored by some of those they will meet along their trip - including a group of kindly ageing brothel workers and a man who has embraced his outsider status in order to live a quiet life. As the group near their destination, the interaction between the real and the imagined also becomes ever more keen, while past lives are increasingly allowed to show their faces in the present. Ortega - whose film is Colombia's nomination for the International Feature Oscar - makes strong use of the elemental, including a moment when a bike hangs, almost as though suspended by fog and another where fire blazes against skin and the night. She’s not po-faced about her imagery, however, even making a canny joke out of her repeated horse motif that also speaks to her characters. They are all too aware of the world’s often deadly realities, but that doesn’t stop them holding on to their hope of something brighter on the horizon.

Reviewed on: 18 Dec 2022
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The Kings Of The World packshot
Five street kids set out on a journey to the promised land.

Director: Laura Mora Ortega

Writer: Maria Camila Arias, Laura Mora Ortega

Year: 2022

Runtime: 103 minutes

Country: Colombia, Luxembourg, France, Mexico, Norway


SSFF 2022
Glasgow 2023

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