Director Salomón Askenazi‘s films often focus on somewhat hypothetical situations played out on screen. His low budget feature debut, Ocean Blues, focused on two people looking for love and their developing relationship through theatre. Askenazi’s sophomore project, Dos Veces Tú, focused on two friends who decide to swap husbands for fun, but a tragic accident results in one of the mismatched pairs losing their lives while the other deals with their grief. Askenazi’s latest film, El Rey de la Fiesta (The King of the Party), is closely linked with his second feature, also featuring a character assuming a different identity as a result of a traumatic event.
El Rey de la Fiesta follows Hector (Giancarlo Ruiz), a demoralised middle-aged father. Hector has a twin brother Rafael (also played by Ruiz), who is the direct opposite of him, a happy-go-lucky individual who Hector seems to despise. When Hector learns of a fatal plane crash that Rafael was supposedly on, Hector decides to assume his brother’s identity.
The film opens with an excerpt from philosopher Alan Watts‘s lecture The Dream of Life, in which he states how we can potentially turn our dreams into reality through open-mindedness. Hector and Rafael differ in this approach as the opening montage displays. Before his brother’s death, Hector was unhappy in every aspect of his life, and it appears he felt there was no way to change that, whereas Rafael was unconcerned with people’s thoughts and feelings about him and seemed content with his life. Ruiz effortlessly shows the differences between the two, showcasing his versatility as an actor. Ruiz also displays excellent nuance as Hector transforms into Rafael with how unassured Hector is in becoming him.
Mirrors and reflections are used frequently throughout the film. Hector often questions who he is, but so do the audience, as they sometimes wonder whether Hector is the one who has departed and that it’s Rafael who remains. Even colleagues and family members question who he is. The cinematography also seems to aid in the transformation of Hector becoming Rafael, with reversed angles displaying a distortion of reality and wide-angle shots showing Hector’s mind becoming more open as he morphs into Rafael.
El Rey de la Fiesta also touches upon grief and loss. Hector might have felt resentment towards his brother when he was alive, but there are tender scenes where a feeling of sorrow overcomes Hector when looking through personal possessions. However, like many possibilities that could arise from a situation like this, some of which the film looks at, El Rey de la Fiesta does not explore them in any great detail.
El Rey de la Fiesta may not commit to exploring any singular idea it puts forward, but it still leaves the audience thinking about their perception of life. The film’s defining message seems to be the necessity of learning to embrace life regardless of our circumstances, as Hector perhaps discovers himself.