The Kingdom I+II (1994)

Rating: B

Dir: Lars Von Trier and Morten Arnfred
Star: Ernst-Hugo Järegård, Kirsten Rolffes, Søren Pilmark, Birgitte Raaberg
a.k.a. Riget 

One top consultant (Järegård) had to flee Sweden and is now in trouble after botching an operation; the other is just plain eccentric. The junior registrar (Pilmark) both lives in, and runs a flourishing black-market from, the hospital basement; he keeps a severed head locked in his fridge. A malingering spiritualist (Rolffes) is convinced the place is haunted. A three-months pregnant woman (Raaberg) is ready to give birth. There’s a bizarre Masonic group. Two retarded dishwashers, who seem to know more about what’s going on than anyone else. A researcher who transplants a diseased liver into his own body to preserve it for science. Udo Kier playing both an apparently-immortal father and his newborn son. Oh, and did I mention the Satanist coven?

In contrast to the amazing batch of characters, the plot can be summarised as “Weird stuff happens”. Especially when you watch these en masse, rather than as the originally envisaged TV episodes, the lack of plot development becomes extremely obvious – there’s hardly enough for one movie, let alone the nine hours of the two mini-series combined. Especially at the end, it’s clear no-one involved has any interest in answering questions, and since both Järegård and Rolffes are now dead (as is one of the dishwashers, I believe), the odds of part three are slim. Maybe the upcoming US adaptation, scripted by Stephen King, will prove more satisfactory in this area.

Yet, the interplay among the characters more than makes up for the shortcomings in storyline, ranging from incredibly creepy to black bureaucratic humour that wouldn’t seem out of place in The Office. The same pseudo-documentary feel is there too, with almost all the camera handheld, and a sepia tone, perhaps a result of the conversion from 16mm, via video, to 35mm. If the whole thing feels like a 550-minute shaggy-dog story, it’s a continually engaging and occasionally magical one.