‘The King’ gives us a different Darko

You’ve probably heard the name “Darko” before, but in relation to “Donnie Darko,” but the movie “The King” has nothing to do with visions of the future, crimes and a large rabbit. This 75-minute documentary is about a sportsman, Darko Kralj, who became an athletic hero in his country after the war in Croatia. “The King” opens for an exclusive Los Angeles engagement at the Pasadena Laemmle Playhouse 7 today, Friday, Nov. 16, 2012.

We begin by meeting a man who loves hunting. The footage it lit green, giving it an eerie feeling. Hunting is a precious experience he tells us, like winning a gold medal and hearing your national anthem. He loves hunting better than anything else, but his family.

This world is silent and through his telescopic view on his gun we see wild boar and deer who come to feed on corn and the salt he leaves. He knows individual animals well.

It’s only later we realize that Darko is a man who lives without his left leg. We don’t see footage of how that happened until the last part of the film. Instead we see how he gets around with his family formed with his second wife and their three children. Darko’s family make sausage together, butchering the meat, simmering and measuring. This is a different world, one more pragmatic and practical than most Americans know. Clearly, this movie isn’t for the squeamish or people who might be offended by a man in just his underpants trying on his prosthetic device. The average prosthetic foot and knee isn’t meant to withstand the kind of training Darko requires and in his own way, he’s pushing technology.

When Darko was injured in 1991, the medical team didn’t think he would live, and we meet some of the people who helped save his life, including the pilot who flew the helicopter. Yet he married for a second time, a woman widowed by the same war, adopted her son, had two more sons and went on to be a Paralympic shot putter.

At the 2008 Beijing Summer Paralympics Darko won a gold medal in style with a 14.43 metre throw. Darko became the only athlete in the history to set and then surpass his own world record five times in a row at world champion events. In London this year, at age 41, he received a silver.

Director/producer Dejan Acimovic shows how one man took a tragedy and changed his life through hard work and raw talent. Without making an attempt to pull our heartstrings and give us forced orchestrated Kleenex-worthy moments, Acimovic gives us a look at what seems to be a normal life and then illustrates how hard being normal is for Darko. Darko had to re-learn how to get up, how to walk and how to use the toilet. Darko is frank about his struggles and stresses the importance of his family, his support system, particularly in comparison with his main rival, Russian Maxim Narozhny. Narozhny lost his leg in a car accident at 16. Darko was a soldier.

With the war raging on in Afghanistan and Iraq, there are undoubtedly many war vets who will face the same challenge of learning to live and different life. This documentary is a straight-forward look at one man’s successful recovery from war injuries to become a different type of hero and be crowned King. “The King” is in Croatian with English subtitles.

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