All the ingredients are there – a fascinating tale of a boy-King crowned in the midst of the last World War, forced to flee his country and live in exile, only to triumphantly return after the collapse of the Soviet Union to claim a democratically elected leadership position decades after he first held office.
Unfortunately, the above summary, spelled out in the film’s first minutes, is highlight of the entirety of the film. Sure, we get a relatively tame interview with the subject, and we’re told of the eventual downfall of his government (something about not living up to expectations of “hope and change” resonates with today’s audience). Yet, throughout this is a pretty dull and dreary presentation, one that never lives up to the promise of its underlying narrative.
Some egregious moments really bring the mood down. There’s scenes of people singing, literally, the praises of the one-time king by some of his Bulgarian subjects/electorate. All have terrible voices, some perform in a fashion that comes across as camp. One quite striking scene was with around a moribund table as the vestiges of the Bulgarian communist movement gather for a general council, complete with note taking and bickering that no doubt has accompanied the meetings for decades.
The whole thing is a bit shambolic, yet underneath I think there’s a really interesting story and some quirky characters that deserve illumination. Told with wit and humour by the likes of Herzog or Morris, this could have been exceptional. Instead, we’re left with a tedious exercise in first-person documentary form, a film that feels very much longer than its actual running time would have you believe.