4 user 2 critic

King of Thieves (2003)

König der Diebe (original title)
| Drama | 2003 (Austria)
Two amateur circus kids from a poor Ukrainian village, ten-year-old Barbu and his older sister Mimma, are sold to a circus artist called Caruso who promises them a career in the West. ... See full summary »


Ivan Fíla


Ivan Fíla (screenplay)
5 wins & 8 nominations. See more awards »


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Cast overview, first billed only:
Lazar Ristovski ... Caruso
Iakov Kultiasov Iakov Kultiasov ... Barbu (as Yasha Kultiasov)
Katharina Thalbach ... Julie
Julia Khanverdieva Julia Khanverdieva ... Mimma
Oktay Özdemir Oktay Özdemir ... Marcel
Paulus Manker ... Kardinal
Birol Ünel ... Birol
Imogen Kogge Imogen Kogge ... Polizisti
Yasemin Bueyueksapci Yasemin Bueyueksapci ... Bianca (as Yasemin Büyüksapci)
Manfred Witt Manfred Witt ... Dimo
Viktor Benzler Viktor Benzler ... Barbus Vater
Axel Neumann Axel Neumann ... Pokerspieler
Motamedi Motamedi ... Ali
Lucia Adyova Lucia Adyova ... Kinder bei Caruso (as Lucia Ádyová)
Petra Hackova Petra Hackova ... Kinder bei Caruso (as Petra Hácková)


Two amateur circus kids from a poor Ukrainian village, ten-year-old Barbu and his older sister Mimma, are sold to a circus artist called Caruso who promises them a career in the West. Caruso smuggles them to Berlin and separates them from each other. Mimma is sold to prostitution, while Barbu is taught to snatch purses together with an older Albanian boy Marcel. Barbu finds out about Mimma's fate and decides to free her from the brothel. Written by Markku Kuoppamäki

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis




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German | Ukrainian

Release Date:

2003 (Austria) See more »

Also Known As:

King of Thieves See more »

Filming Locations:

Berlin, Germany See more »


Box Office


DEM9,250,000 (estimated)
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

Dolby SR



Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


Filming began in 2000 but was halted due to financing issues in January 2001, with fifteen shooting days still remaining. Director Ivan Fíla finished a rough cut of the footage already shot, which he showed to potential backers in hopes of gaining financing to complete the film. In 2003, producer Rudolph Biermann saw the footage and helped finance the completion of the film. See more »


Love Me
Lyrics by 'Ladislav Faktor'
Performed by Ivana Christová
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User Reviews

Childhood Dreams and Fantasies/Adult Recriminations and Realities
25 June 2006 | by gradyharpSee all my reviews

'Koenig der Diebe' ('King of Thieves') is a powerful indictment dealing with child slavery in the German marketplace. The subject is a tough one to watch but the writing, direction, acting, scenic design, and production of this brilliant film is so incredibly fine that is commands attention.

The story is a contemporary one, opening in The Ukraine where 10-year old Barbu (Iakov Kultiasov) and his 13-year old sister Mimma (Julia Khanverdieva) are staging a simple but really fine circus in the dusty little town center. Obviously living in fantasy of circus life, they greet the scrubby but congenial Caruso (Lazar Ristovski) as he rides into town tossing candy to the kids. Caruso is an ex-circus owner who is now in the trade of child trafficking and when he sees the buoyant and irresistible Barbu he decides to 'buy' him from the father. Barbu is thrilled but insists Mimma go with him to 'join the big circus' in Berlin: the father consents (accepting money for the purchase of his children) and the three drive off to their new destinies. Barbu and Caruso bond despite the language barrier - Caruso speaks German, Barbu speaks Russian, but they manage to communicate on certain levels. At the Ukrainian/Slovakian border Caruso is stopped and the children he has gathered disperse (Caruso promises to meet Barbu in Berlin and bring Mimma with him). Barbu sets out across country and eventually arrives in Berlin, full of hopes and fantasies ('I am Barbu, King of the Circus'), only to discover through his new found friend, Albanian boy Marcel (Oktay Ozdemir), that the 'circus' Caruso runs has no audience, but instead is a 'school' for teaching children how to steal to support him.

Caruso lives in a circus tent with a shaved-headed woman Julie (Katharina Thalbach) who is addicted to drugs administered by Caruso to relieve her constant pain (we learn that her pain comes from a trapeze act accident when Caruso failed to catch her resulting in a traumatic fall). Also in the 'circus' are two thugs who police the activities of the boys' thefts. The ever-optimistic Barbu still imagines he will be the king of the circus but is appalled as he gradually discovers the realities of the life of thievery, crime, and most of all that Mimma has been sold into prostitution to a loathsome cruel pimp Kardinal (Paulus Manker). This discovery pushes Barbu to acts of theft to gain money to buy back his sister, but the obstacles he meets along the way emphasize the incredible brutality and cruelty of Caruso and his cohorts. The manner in which the film ends is best left to the viewer to discover, but it is one that will make an indelible imprint on the psyche and heart of those fortunate enough to see this work of art.

Ivan Fila, born in Prague, Czechoslovakia, is a gifted writer and director. Despite the heart wrenching story matter, he allows us to see all sides of the child trafficking business - including the bonding among the children and the transient feelings of power and success as they learn 'new trade'. The actors in this drama are absolutely extraordinary: few child actors can match the performance of Iakov Kultiasov as Barbu, and this is his first experience at acting! The set decoration, lighting, costumes, scenery, cinematography, and musical score by Michael Kocab are as atmospheric as anything ever filmed! KING OF THIEVES is an amazingly fine film, but audiences should be warned that it has moments of violence that are difficult to watch. Highly Recommended. Grady Harp

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