NZIFF 2020 review: King of the Cruise excels in discomfort

King of the Cruise.
Photo credit: New Zealand International Film Festival

The concept of cruising has always made me uncomfortable. There's something off about an all-inclusive luxury holiday from which you cannot escape - it just doesn't seem like it would bring out the best in anyone.

But for Baron Ronald Reisinger, cruises are a life preserver. The older he gets, the more desperately he clings onto them as the last place he can stand out and be noticed.

King of the Cruise follows Reisinger on one such journey as he regales fellow passengers with outlandish tales of unconfirmed veracity, while taking full advantage of the hospitality on offer.

It's sad and beautiful, idyllic and obscene - contradictions director Sophie Dros highlights evocatively from the very beginning.

Against a backdrop of Bulgari jewellery and sultry crooning, workers continuously polish glass, scrub decks and serve passengers with the exaggerated pep of Disneyland workers.

Passengers are herded like sheep to 'muster stations' upon boarding, then let loose to indulge in as much food, drink and indoor drone racing as they desire.

What Reisinger desires is for people to pay attention to him and in his high moments he holds court at tables full of strangers, boasting about how much land he owns and how big his Scottish castle is.

The film does not question how many of his seemingly outlandish stories are true, but it does expose many other raw insights through frank interviews with him.

Reisinger fears becoming invisible, irrelevant and lonely as he ages. His way of dealing with this is to leave his wife at home and board a luxury cruise full of strangers.

The real pathos in King of the Cruise is that Reisinger's attempt at escapism actually brings his fears to the fore. The camerawork heightens his loneliness, keeping its distance and constantly searching him out as he exists just on the periphery of the general cruise hubbub and merriment.

As it shows him sitting alone in his room eating plate after plate of vapid-looking room service food, it feels like the king of the cruise is anything but.

King of the Cruise is playing at 2020 Whānau Mārama: New Zealand International Film Festival.