Overview: The last three families to still reside in a partially-flooded village grapple with isolation and an ever-present threat of violence. 2015; Unrated; 83 Minutes
Mysteries: Kings of Nowhere (or Los reyes del pueblo que no existe, its real title) is an annoyingly coy film. The expository title cards that a typical documentary would open with are reserved for the very end of the film, so the entire film is meant to be viewed sans context. It would be an interesting method of immersing the audience in the visuals — and this film is all about the visuals, which we’ll get into in a moment — if the film didn’t always seem to be hiding something. The interviewees talk more about some vague, unnamed violent force than the river that is ostensibly the whole point of the documentary, but the film never tells the audience what exactly they’re talking about. It’s a bizarre choice, and one that frustrated me for a while.
Questions: But it turns out that Kings of Nowhere’s misstep might just be in its marketing. It’s a less conventional film than I anticipated, one more interested in imagery and metaphor than traditional documentary construction. The threatening violent force is given no explanation, but the film treats it no differently than the rising water which also surrounds its subjects. Both are merely expressions of a classic form of existential dread: the unstoppable approach of death. The three families featured in Kings of Nowhere have all chosen to stay in their village despite the flood. Hundreds of others are long gone, and the film implies a fruitlessness in their attempt to control their fates. Everyone dies, and you won’t be able to prevent it when it happens to you.
Answers: What truly matters, then, is who you choose to spend your time with, and Kings of Nowhere places a high value on family and community. Though they aren’t cut off from civilization, director Betzabé García emphasizes their isolation with wide shots that place their tiny figures in a vast and empty natural canvas. They might technically be connected to the rest of the world, but they are still imprisoned by their surroundings. Kings of Nowhere is a Herzogian fable about the evil of nature’s apathy, a slow-paced and minimalist exploration of existential angst with some impressive real-life symbolism. I went in expecting a documentary about a flooded village, but Kings of Nowhere only uses the village as a jumping-off point to explore denser questions about humanity.
Wrap-Up: Kings of Nowhere’s brooding calm and ambiguity make for an unsettling (if occasionally frustrating) experience.
This film and countless others will be screening at the 18th annual Full Frame Documentary Film Festival in downtown Durham, North Carolina from April 9-12. Tickets are available online.