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'Born King': Agustí Villaronga's Millionaire Saudi Adventure


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  • Before, in the series, Paco Plaza: narcos, nécoras and sangre

Because of the fact that reality always ends up being a somewhat weakened and dull copy of the fable , the destiny (or chance) that Agustí Villaronga ended up imitating his last protagonist. The two lost in a strange world, alien and, what counts, fascinating. Let's sit down. Born King is what is called the production of Andrés Vicente Gómez that the director of Tras el cristal , Pa negre or Uncertain Glory has become a reality. Or in fiction (depending on how you look at it). It tells the trip to London that the 13-year-old King Faisal made, the youngest son of an Abd Al-Aziz Ibn Saud, at war with his enemies from the north . The idea was to win the favor of the Empire.

We are in 1919 and the world in general and the Middle East in particular is a thin and tense skin in which the future of the world vibrates, this one that is ours. Oil stuff that will appear. And everything is in the hands of a child. There appears the very Lawrence of Arabia and not far, the adventurer, diplomat, spy and irreconcilable enemy of the author of The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, St. John Philby (the father of spy Kim). The first works against the interests of which, as time went by, would reunify Saudi Arabia. The second is an ally. And in the middle, two subjects, director and protagonist, lost, a little terrified and even happy.

The film has no release date, but it could be seen in Palma de Mallorca in the last edition of Atlántida Film Fest with all the honors. After all, the director is natural from there. Not from Arabia, much less from Atlantis.

Agustí Villaronga, during the filming of 'Born King'.

"The truth," the filmmaker begins slowly, "is that everything has been as rare as it is incredible." Andrés approached me a good day with a story and a script . The first is long to tell and is, at least, a bit confusing. The second, on the other hand, was very clear and was practically finished. I have to admit that I was assaulted by all the doubts that may assail you. What do I do in a country where until now women did not drive and where homosexuality is persecuted? Not to mention the recent murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. But I threw myself and took it, as it is, an adventure ».

The director tells that, once the first inconveniences and complaints were overcome, everything was normalized. Or almost. «Actually, you arrive in a country where there is everything and there is nothing at the same time . The movie law that allows filming and movie theaters came out a year and a half ago, and the only producer does not have much more time either. But I never experienced any kind of conflict. Neither in England nor in Arabia, the two places where it was filmed. My only concern was to give the main character of the child a soul. My fear was to fall into the topical biopic , all so aseptic, so lifeless, ”he says to scare away ghosts. The boy he speaks of is the Saudi and debutant Adbullah Ali. Beside him, few familiar faces. The Englishman Ed Skrein in the role of Philby, Laurence Fox in the role of Lawrence of Arabia, Ruben Ochandiano as the Turkish advisor Al-Thunayan or Hermione Corfield, who gives life to Princess Mary, escort the real infant protagonist.

When the project was heard, the producer stated that what moved him was the same impulse that made Jeremy Thomas and Bernardo Bertolucci the first to shoot in the Forbidden City [refers to The Last Emperor ]. Only the independent and hidden tape The green bicycle , by Haifaa Al-Mansour, can boast of having arrived earlier.

"We will be the pioneers in bringing Saudi Arabia to the world of cinema," he says. But it all started long ago. «I was in London and I saw the lavish designs of some gardens projected in the capital Riad . They are still under construction. They were being carried out in collaboration with the British Museum and I asked to meet with the person in charge, ”says Vicente Gómez.

Frame of 'Born King'

What follows is a somewhat labyrinthine story that takes place in the lobbies of luxury hotels and in mahogany offices and that leads to the production of a musical with Arabian horses entitled The Last Horseman . The show was released in Madrid and the script was signed by the novelist Ray Loriga . Sounds weird, but galloped. "That," continues the architect of all this, "made it easier for me to start working for Saudi television and meet prominent members of the royal family."

And so until one day he stumbled upon the right story and the right person at the right time. First it was a draft of just 11 pages and then a story of 50 with, again, Loriga as a collaborator , which followed two years of waiting until real authorization was achieved. "They have facilitated everything, but they have not put money," he says.

In total 18 million have been spent. Theoretically, this production has nothing to do with airs, whether you like it or not, of historical overproduction with Villaronga's previous filmography. But theories can be refuted by reality.

«The first thing I would say is that shooting with a large budget, despite the legends, is much better than doing it with a small one. Everything works better and there are more trained people who help. On the other hand, it is not the first custom movie I make. There are already five and the challenge is always the same: make it yours, ”says the director with aplomb. And we believe him. Or, better, we believe him until we reach the battle scene. Never before and under any circumstances has the director of El mar seen himself in something similar or dared so much.

"That's why," he continues, "that I needed to use storyboard . The truth is that I never use them. I take to the shoot everything thought of the technical script to the last detail. It is a matter of character . I am terrified to think that the people who work with me are aware of only one doubt. Also, having a cartoonist do each scene to you takes a long time. But in this case it was necessary due to the many inconveniences and the challenge involved, ”he recalls, there is a time and he proceeds with the enumeration:“ First, it is a battle shot with three teams; In addition, it occurs at the beginning of the movie when the viewer has not yet developed any connection with any character, there are no good and bad yet . If that is added that everything takes place in the middle of the desert in full light and, therefore, there are no nuances, we have as a result a great challenge ». Pause. "That's why the drawings."

He says that, given the novelty of the sequence, he devoted time to gossiping work from others. First he came in sight. And there appeared the excesses of Game of Thrones . "I like how times are dosed," he says. Then he crossed Oliver Stone and his Alexander the Great . "It is very visceral," he adds. And finally, he turned to the expressionism employed by Justin Kurzel in Macbeth . «His advantage is that he worked in the dark. And that allows you to suggest more than show . I could not instead, ”he concludes.

Be that as it may, the secret of Born King rests elsewhere: in the adventure of a man alone in a completely strange place. And here both the protagonist and Villaronga share destiny. «Yes, I am aware that I can be criticized for having agreed to work in a regime like that of Saudi Arabia, but I prefer to see it from the opposite side: Cinema always opens up the mentalities and invites dialogue. And this movie is not propaganda at all ».

According to the criteria of The Trust Project

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