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King Khat

An Israeli entrepeurneur stumbles onto something big when he creates a product that's almost as colourful as the film it's in - from the Rebels With a Cause Competition of the 27th Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival


Hey, Breaking Bad baddie Walter White, eat your heart out. What we see in King Khat is a real life scientist who came up with one of the most popular drugs of the 21st century. The scientist – credited as Gabi Shalev, although I’m guessing it’s a false name given to protect the real individual – found himself in the middle of the Haifa underworld when he introduced them to this drug. Setting himself up as an entrepeurneur as such, he rose up in the social circles, although the more his fame grew, the more he attracted unwanted attention. But there was a market for psychoactives, so he felt duty bound to provide it.

What could have been a very boring documentary is given a new lease of life through an aimation programme that pushes viewers headfirst into the kaleidoscopic world of a drug taker. It’s a very colourful film, and might inspire viewers to try some substances in the process. (Writer’s note: Neither I nor anyone in Dirty Movies is encouraging that type of behaviour.) Aesthetically, the animation bears a resemblance to Terry Gilliam’s cartoon work on Life of Brian (Terry Jones, 1979), but this is no homage, building a universe full of flying objects, anthromorphic animals and ladybugs darting at the screen with dizzying speed. I was worried that the animation would become gimmicky, but it adds a dimension to the bizarre story that it would not have it stuck to the tried and tested formula of talking heads.

Watching the film, I admired the chutzpah of the character, who proudly boasts, “I was sure we’d make millions.” Now, whether that’s bravery or stupidity is neither here nor there, but somehow Shalev managed to build an empire from the ground up based on a drug he concocted in his early 20s. Impressively, the film finishes with great economy, and the finished result is little over an hour long in total. Personally, I think that’s the correct call to make because the animations cling heavily to the screen which might make it particularly taxing on the viewer if it were longer. The film makes clever use of Debussy’s ‘Clair de Lune’, which is littered throughout the more introspective moments in the film.

The film uses live action actors against animated backdrops, constructing a cabalistic painting of Israel in the process. In one the film’s wittier throwbacks, they construct a dinner scene in the style of Da Vinci’s The Last Supper. But the creative team never get lost in the world building, and no matter what visual gag appears on the screen, the focus is kept squarely on the story. Shalev, as played by Oshri Cohen, surprises himself with the rewards sent his way, although by the time the film closes, he seems content to pursue a quieter, more stable life.

King Khat just premiered in the Rebels With a Cause Competition of the 27th Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival. One to be watched on the silver screen!

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