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The Kingdom (Le Royaume)

A teenager bonds with her father, but his criminal past catches up with them - uneven mobster flick from France shows premieres at the Un Certain Regard section of the 77th Cannes International Film Festival


Mafia films tend to follow a pattern. There’s the father, who refuses to tell his children about “the business”; Catholic prayers, which are uttered immediately before a cycle of murders; a collection of recipes, when put together make for a stirring domestic dinner; and the inevitable presence of a child who will follow their parents into the enterprise, no matter how fervently the elderly members might protest. In that regard, The Kingdom ticks every mobster box, with one exception: it is a daughter who wishes to succeed the guardian.

The Kingdom centres on 15-year-old Lesia (Ghjuvanna Benedetti), who is whisked away without her permission to spend time with thepater familias and his compatriot, a man she calls “Godfather.” The audience quickly discerns that “papa” Pierre-Paul (Saveriu Santucci) is a fugitive: a man who refuses to speak to his child over the telephone, or collect them from school. Nevertheless, director Julien Colonna exhibits a genuine affection between senior and junior, so much so they’re almost friends. Between boar hunts and fish cuisine, Pierre-Paul shows Lesia a mentorship and love that is interrupted when one of his companions – another burly man who mumbles incoherently – is murdered. From that point on, the pace races up, becoming a reprisal: gang fighting rival, friend shooting chum.

This is a lazy addition to the genre of organised-crime works. Barring some gorgeous landscape shots of Corsica, and a moment of vehicular carnage that requires fast editing, brio and muscle, one would be hard pressed to notice anything in the film that could be pencilled as genuinely innovative. That the finished result is in any way watchable is a testament to Benedetti and Santucci, a believable duo caught in an unpredictable storm of anarchic change. Of the two leads, Santucci is the victor by a hair’s breadth, observable as he compiles a bucket-list soaked in regret: the scriptwriter’s monologue doubling as an apology to Pierre-Paul’s kin. The Breton murderer is talkative, unusual for an exile, but his words are mirrored by Lesia’s expressions: quaint yet combustible in presence.

Quickly establishing herself as a physical equal to the parade of males, Lesia is a girl capable of shooting down wild animals; carefully removing any innards as she does so. Keenly aware of the milieu created by aeons of clan members, the teenager pines for an escape where she can enjoy quality time with the household. In keeping with the gangster genre, The Kingdom deals in reality and fiction: lines blurring in the minds of the syndicate. Pierre-Paul has composed an alternative dream, a distraction for the duo. “I hope one day you will forgive me,” he begs his child, tears mounting beneath the doe-like eyes. As aforementioned, Colonna knows how to piece together an effective action-oriented sequence, and the movie ends on a suitably ambiguous note, setting the stages for a second chapter if the producers choose to go there.

Santucci is a fine actor, and Benedetti boasts promise, but the ensemble rumbles from low-key to lacklustre. A twinkly, blond disciple enters, a potential object of Lesia’s affection to boot, who brings nothing of note to the proceedings beside his obvious looks. Marie Murcia is wasted in her all too brief cameo: bathetically, The Kingdom scrapes a pass on the Bechdel test because two females are found commenting on another lady.

Moreover, it’s a particularly violent affair, plunging viewers into a project heavy on gore, light on wit. Clichés populate the picture: A private conversation between Pierre-Paul and a surrogate mother figure comes across as little more than a shameless pastiche of the iconic exchange between Michael and Mama Corleone in The Godfather Part II (Francis Ford Coppola, 1974). Overall, a disappointing affair.

The Kingdom just premiered in the Un Certain Regard section of the 77th Cannes International Film Festival.

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