Toronto 2019: The Barefoot Emperor

Belgian King Nicolas III (Peter Van den Begin) in The Barefoot Emperor. Courtesy of TIFF.

The Barefoot Emperor is a satirical film about forming a new Europe and is very fitting given the current political climate.

Nicolas III (Peter Van den Begin) is so close to being able to get back home to Belgium.  The only thing standing between him and members of the Belgian military retrieving him is a re-enactment of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s 1914 assassination.  Anything that can go wrong will go wrong!  Of course, he gets shot in the ear!

Nicolas III wakes up to learn that he’s currently in a sanatorium on Brijuni, a Croatian island.  He’s also rooming in the same place where Brezhnev once slept in Tito’s former summer home.  Rather than let others know his true identity, people are referred to by the celebrities and royalty who used to sleep in the rooms.  As such, the three members of the king’s entourage get their own names until they figure out how to leave.  Entourage members Louise Vancraeyenest (Lucie Debay), Ludovic Moreau (Bruno Georis), and Carlos De Vos (Titus De Voogdt) become Miss Gandhi, Mr. Castro, and Mr. Arafat, respectively.  While the king wishes to go back home, his entourage stalls for as much time as possible.  They are holding off on telling him about the collapse of their beloved kingdom.  How about that for an entourage?

Dr. Otto Kroll (Udo Kier) gives the king strict orders so as to get healthy sooner.  This may be fine at first but it’s going to be extremely frustrating later on.  Dr. Kroll starts to act more and more like a dictator if you know what I mean.  Then comes the bombshell: they are a forming a New Europe (Nova Europa) and the new emperor will soon be speaking live on television.  Very few people–if any–know the new emperor’s identity.  This new nation, which one can imagine does not sit well with the King or his entourage, is fully nationalist.  The architect behind it happens to be Dr. Ilse von Stroheim (Geraldine Chaplin, who duos as Lady Liz).

This film is the sequel to 2016’s King of the Belgians.  While the previous film would help put this film into better context, the opening title cards catch us up.  Basically, Belgium is already falling apart before the film even starts.  While it matters to an extent, it doesn’t really matter in terms of what takes place in this film.  I didn’t feel lost while watching the film if it helps any.

While Peter Van den Begin may shine as the Belgian King, it’s Geraldine Chaplin who takes home the MVP award.  As Lady Liz, she delivers some of the film’s most important lines.  Her character speaks of having lived in camps because their parents worked in intelligence.  One can assume what camps she was speaking of.  Lady Liz already saw what happened when fascists and nationalists took over the government.  You can bet that she doesn’t want this to happen again!

The idea of a new Europe forming sounds preposterous at first.  But when you take a look at what’s happening around the globe, it’s not much of an absurd idea.  Did anyone believe that the United Kingdom would vote to leave the European Union?  I’m just offering some food for thought here.

Films such as The Barefoot Emperor remind of us the truth in comedy.

DIRECTORS/SCREENWRITERS:  Peter Brosens & Jessica Woodworth
CAST:  Peter Van den Begin, Lucie Debay, Udo Kier, Geraldine Chaplin, Bruno Georis, Titus De Voogdt

The Barefoot Emperor holds its world premiere during the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival in the Contemporary World Cinema program. Grade: 4/5

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.