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Patience Is Rewarded in Von Trier's 'Kingdom II'


Something is still rotten in the state of Denmark!

Having affirmed the possibility that faith can work miracles in his go-for-broke, internationally acclaimed "Breaking the Waves," Denmark's endlessly venturesome Lars von Trier returned to television to create "The Kingdom II," a sequel to his mind-blowing account of supernatural occurrences--and all-too-human shenanigans--at the National State Hospital in Copenhagen.

With co-director Morten Arnfred, Trier continues the miniseries with four more chapters, which add up to a whopping four-hour, 46-minute running time. A lot of people who submitted to the similarly lengthy "The Kingdom" at the Nuart last year will find it rewarding to return to the theater for more. (A concluding Part III is already planned.)

"The Kingdom II," which Trier wrote with Niels Vorsel, is at once a greater challenge both to its makers and its audiences. That's because it's basically a restatement of the first part's warning against the disdaining of the spiritual in the modern world.

Yet Trier and Vorsel are so imaginative, so hilariously comprehensive in their perceptions of the foibles of human nature, that a revisit to the Kingdom, as that immense hospital is referred to, is worth the effort.

Be warned, however: "Effort" is the operative word here, for this time there are a staggering 11 plot lines going on instead of the mere five of the first part. If you lose a thread momentarily you can't afford to worry because you're in imminent danger of losing another; besides, everything does tie together at the end of this soap opera of the supernatural.

As viewers of Part 1 will recall, this state hospital, rated Denmark's finest, was constructed over the site of an ancient marshland used as bleaching ponds, which gave off a seemingly permanent fog. With the construction of the hospital "ignorance and superstition were never to shake the bastions of science again." Yeah, sure.

The key figure among many is again Sigrid Drusse (Kirsten Rolffes), a 70-ish retired journalist with psychic powers. A determined malingerer, Drusse actually leaves the hospital at the beginning of Part 2 only to be struck by a car. Back in the Kingdom she senses, after a course of bizarre events, that the hospital itself is somehow "wounded" and that someone on staff for whatever reason has summoned the powers of Satan.

The most extraordinary occurrence is that an intern, Judith (Birgitte Raaberg), has given birth to a baby with a man's head. The baby rapidly develops a gigantic yet fragile body and speaks adult thoughts in a baby's voice. He has been sired by Aage Kruger, a demon who also fathered little Mary, the ghost of Part 1; ever-sinister Udo Kier is a natural for Kruger, but he also plays, in one of his most daunting roles, the baby--a noble, pathetic creature. Setting the incredibly complex story in motion is that Stig Helmer (Ernst-Hugo Jaregaard), the hospital's Swedish consulting neurosurgeon, has botched an operation on a brain-damaged girl, Mona (Laura Christensen), and he now faces a summons.

The pompous, inept Helmer is the star in the film's large gallery of hypocritical, corrupt old fools. (Trier has lots of fun with the self-importance that accrues with age and power.) Other key medicos are head of neurosurgery Einar Moesgaard (Holger Juul Hansen), whose search for relief from an imminent nervous breakdown allows Von Trier to skewer faddish therapies); Bondo (Baard Owe), a professor of pathology and a self-dramatizing martyr who has had a cancerous liver transplanted in himself in the dubious name of research; and Krogen (Soren Pilmark), a hospital administrator who has decided that sustaining the lives of hopelessly disabled patients is not cost-effective. There is much, much more.

As "Waves" was before it, "The Kingdom II" is shot entirely with hand-held cameras, which gives it an eavesdropping cinema verite quality. And once again the immense cast dazzles from start to finish, none more so than the assured, compelling Rolffes (and including a cameo by "Breaking the Waves" star Stellan Skarsgaard). If you feel up to the demands of its running time, the Kingdom is well worth a new visit.

* Unrated. Times guidelines: The film contains much blunt language, some sex and violence.

'The Kingdom II'

Ernst-Hugo Jaregaard: Stig Helmer

Kirsten Rolffes: Sigrid Drusse

Holger Juul Hansen: Einar Moesgaard

Soren Pilmark: Krogen

An October Films presentation of a Zentropa Entertainments and Danish Broadcasting Corp. co-production. Directors Lars von Trier and Morten Arnfred. Producers Vibeke Windelev & Svend Abrahamsen. Written by Von Trier and Niels Vorsel. Cinematographer Eric Kress. Editors Molly Malene Stensgaard, Pernille Beach Christensen. Music Joachim Holbek.. Art directors Jette Lehmann, Hans Christian Lindholm. In Danish, with English subtitles. Running time: 4 hours, 46 minutes.

* Exclusively at the Nuart through Thursday, 11272 Santa Monica Blvd., West Los Angeles, (310) 478-6379.

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