is impossible to imagine Pu Yi, China last boy emperor, successfully standing
for election as the country’s head of state.
Yet, that is exactly what happened in post-Communist Bulgaria. Andrey Paounov kind of-sort of tells the
remarkable story of Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, a.k.a. Simeon II, in The Boy Who was a King (trailer here), which screens
this Thursday as part of Disappearing Act V.
in 1936, Simeon II reigned from 1943 to 1946.
It was a short but eventful period.
Deposed by a dubious Communist backed referendum, Simeon II went into
exile. A successful businessman who
married a member of the Spanish aristocracy, the King (or Tsar) continued to
speak out against Communist oppression during the Captive Nation years. When the Soviet system collapsed, he did not
immediately return to Bulgaria, but he accepted a Bulgarian passport.
to the King’s own surprise, many Bulgarians placed their hopes for a better
government in the former monarch.
Eventually, he reluctantly assumed the position of Prime Minister when
his vaguely Ross Perotish center-left party was overwhelmingly swept into
power. Simeon promised to restore public
integrity in 800 days. What happened
during his administration? Politics.
gives viewers a thumbnail recap of Simeon’s life, but his approach is more impressionistic
than authoritative. More often he turns
his camera on eccentric or marginalized Bulgarians, some of whom still harbor monarchist
sentiments. Others are deeply
disillusioned by the former PM, including one who was inspired to get a rather
crude, painful looking crown tattoo in Simeon’s honor. There’s a good argument for the separation of
tattoos and state.
times, Paounov approach is downright weird, as when he follows a coyote donated
by Simeon’s sister from the taxidermist through the streets of Sofia to the
Natural History Museum. Other times,
there is method in his stylistic madness, as when he observes a meeting of the Bulgarian
Communist Party held in a crummy state constructed flat. Consisting of six or seven bitter old prunes
whose claims about Simeon appear patently false based on everything Paounov has
previously shown the audience, it seems unlikely the hammer-and-sickle will
rise again in Bulgaria anytime soon.
Boy never gives viewers enough
information to pass judgment on Simeon as an elected statesman. He certainly has a regal bearing though. Indeed, the film’s most intriguing episodes
explore the way Simeon’s roles as republican and royal complimented each other. Sometimes fascinating and other times bemusing,
The Boy Who was a King is recommended
for viewers with a taste for idiosyncratic documentaries when it screens (free
of charge) this coming Saturday (4/20) as Disappearing Act V continues at
Bohemia National Hall on Manhattan’s Upper Eastside.
Labels: Bulgarian Cinema, Disappearing Act V, Documentary