King of Thieves
In Czechoslovakia, with no holds barred, director Ivan Fila has exposed a racket that enslaves young children, boys and girls from Rumania, the Ukraine, Albania, and Yugoslavia, in lives of crime and prostitution in other European countries. Having come across such children while visiting Rome he returned to his native land with a burning desire to expose all of this. His film King Of Thieves, a loose interpretation of Oliver Twist in a modern-day setting, includes some of the stories he heard from these children in Italy.
The new DVD release of the film is a treasure and not an easy one to keep your eye on. Barbu and his adopted sister Mimma are purchased from Barbu’s father by a "circus" manager named Caruso (he likes to sing Opera) and taken off to Berlin to be trained as acrobats. A lovely start to a morality tale that begins with a lie for, in fact, Mimma has already been sold off to a whorehouse and Barbu ends up in a mill for training street thieves and hustlers. It becomes his personal mission to find and save his sister and return with her to their father’s house in the Ukraine.
Lazar Ristovski is Caruso, charming, reprehensible and fascinating. His attachment to the ten-year old boy is slightly erotic as he ensnares the lad in his drug and alcohol dreams of one day reopening his old circus. This Fagan has a painful history of destroying the woman he loved and partnered with on the high-wire. His heart is engaged, but his monetary needs are too strong to allow him much leeway.
Barbu is the sweet-faced, talented child-actor Yasha Kutliasov and Mimma is played by Julia Khanverdieva. The devastated former flyer, Caruso’s wife Julia is given a riveting performance by Katharina Thalbach. Her "Nancy" is this Fagan’s nemesis and true love and her scenes are heart-breaking.
Fila has done a brilliant job of getting us close to the characters and entrenching us in their dilemmas. He keeps a close camera on the faces of most of his leads whenever possible and it is very effective. This is particularly true of another young player, Oktay Ozdemir, the "Artful Dodger" in Caruso’s stable of young thieves. As Marcel he engages us completely and when things go bad for him its hard not to stop the DVD player for a moment and wipe away a furtive tear.
This is a brilliant retelling of a classic tale with an actual relevance to our own times. It’s a no-brainer - a don’t miss movie.
Picture This Home Video. DVD, 2006. 1 hour and 49 minutes.
Interview feature with the director; German and Ukrainian with English and Spanish subtitles; widescreen; coming attractions. $26.95.