‘The Kingdom’ Review: Julien Colonna’s Corsican Father-Daughter Mob Drama Is An Understated Epic – Cannes Film Festival

“Why do they want to kill you?” At 15, Lesia (Ghjuvanna Benedetti) is still daddy’s girl. She knows but doesn’t want to know the answer to her question, just as she has always known what Pierre-Paul (Saveriu Santucci) does for a living — a very good living — but doesn’t acknowledge it to herself. “Money. Power. You don’t talk to these kinds of people,” her father shrugs. You wouldn’t want to talk to him either, not without an invitation.

Julien Colonna’s robust story of Corsican rule by the Mob is set in the ’90s, when the island was so thick with revenge killings that they were a nightly news feature. As The Kingdom opens, there has been peace between the Corsican crime families for years, but the eruption of a car bomb aimed at the president, who also happens to be Pierre-Paul’s closest friend, is a warning that this respite is over: another clan is making a run for their share of the extortion, drug and dock rackets. They have to defend their turf. Every murder must be answered with revenge, served not cold but very, very hot indeed. “Are you afraid?” Lesia goes on. “We’re all afraid,” her father replies, “With the lives we lead, we breathe fear. We eat it. That’s what keeps us alive.”

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Colonna draws here on his own memories of childhood, although we can’t know how closely they correspond to Lesia’s story. He says the first seed of the film was sown when he went on a fishing trip with his own father and uncle on Corsica’s spectacular coast and, while he was there, realised they had bigger plans that went beyond just filling a basket with bonito. Authenticity is clearly important to him; he insisted on casting non-actors who spoke the local dialect and could convincingly kill a wild boar.

Relying on first-timers could have shortchanged the drama. This is the full-bodied tale of a love that is constantly thwarted and ultimately doomed. Lesia wishes she and her Dad could just go somewhere else where they could cook meals together, she could go to school uninterrupted and her father would stop disappearing on errands from which he may or may not return. This cannot happen; she will never have her fantasy family life. So much passion, anxiety and high stakes set the dramatic bar at an operatic level, but Colonna’s chosen actors soar to meet it.

This story of a man and his daughter — Lesia’s mother, to whom she is often compared, died years earlier — is framed as a thriller. Audrey Ismael’s hard-edged droning score helps to sustain the necessary tension, while the sheer complexity of the clans, where everyone is related and various cousins and uncles disappear or turn out to be traitors at a bewildering rate, means that nothing ever feels settled, setting a restless narrative pace.

There are always new arrivals at the villa where the clan has retreated, with Lesia insisting she be allowed to stay with her father but obliged to “take a walk” when operations are being discussed. She is the only girl in a house milling with tough middle-aged men. She can help, she insists. She can shoot. Of course, she is still a child; she is excluded. Like her, we learn who has been killed from frequent flashes of TV news. The Vietnam War was described as the first TV war, but this is TV crime. The murders are never in your face — we don’t get long bloodbaths — but they are in the lounge room.

But, despite its pace, The Kingdom doesn’t feel like the thriller it resembles. It feels like epic drama. It isn’t glamorous, but it does look glorious: outside the expensively tasteless villa is the Corsican countryside, drenched in sun that plays into purple shadows and filtered golden light. Colonna might have been expected to shy away from beauty, given the subject, but he embraces it as part of the Corsican contradiction. There are a great many films about the mafia. Many of them are concerned with family, but few have this depth of feeling. Afterwards, what’s most striking is that Lesia has never blamed her father for the life he leads. These things are fated. At that point, it feels more like classical tragedy than ever.

Title: The Kingdom
Festival: Cannes (Un Certain Regard)
Director: Julien Colonna
Screenwriters: Julien Colonna, Jeanne Henr
Cast: Ghjuvanna Benedetti, Saveriu Santucci, Anthony Morganti, Andrea Cossu, Régis Gomez
Distributor: Metrograph (US)
Running time: 1 hr 48 min

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