The President of an unidentified nation where the people speak Georgian (Misha Gomiashvili) is, in fact, a dictator whose spoiled, diabetic grandson (Dachi Orvelashvili) addresses him as "Your Majesty." The President is raising the boy because his own son, the boy's father, was killed by terrorists some time ago. To distract the boy from his unhealthy desire for ice cream, the President shows him the kind of power he'll inherit. With one phone call, he can have all the lights in his capital city turned off, then turned back on. He lets the boy try. The lights go out, then come back on. Cool! He orders them out again, but this time they stay out. The President reclaims the phone and gives the order, but he's left in the dark, except for the feeble glow of explosions throughout the city.
While the boy is terribly spoiled and utterly unprepared for the ordeal to come, the old man is a cunning, ruthless survivor who quickly cops a disguise by robbing a poor barber at gunpoint. Picking up a guitar elsewhere, he passes himself off as a minstrel, the boy becoming like an organ grinder's monkey. The old man becomes a master of hiding in plain sight, even pulling off a gag as old as the movies by disguising himself as a scarecrow in a field with his back to a revolutionary militia desperately seeking a million-dollar bounty. For a while it looks like the story is going to be about the old man's changing relationship with the boy, who must now call him "Grandpa" instead of "Your Majesty" for safety's sake, and who must learn to be practical and at least minimally tough, though he doesn't really seem to have it in him. Interestingly, the boy gets flashbacks but the old man doesn't.
Finally, despite the scarecrow ruse, the old man and the boy are caught, pulled from a hidey-hole on the beach. Makhmalbaf clearly has the fates of Saddam and Khadafi in mind as a mob drags the President around, trying to make up its collective mind on how to kill him while one of the political prisoners desperately tries to distract the boy from the horror that seems inevitable. Another former prisoner makes a passionate speech against the planned lynching, making the predictable liberal point about the mob being no better than the man they'd punish. The old President is stoic, or resigned, throughout, waiting patiently as Makhmalbaf struggles to figure out what to do with him. We're left with the suggestion that the appropriate punishment is simply to make him dance for democracy, but we see the boy dance once more instead, as he has loved to do. This seems flat and unsatisfactory, but ask yourself what would have been more satisfying and you may find it hard to answer. The President has painted itself into a corner, or more literally it has forced itself to the water's edge with no option of retreat. There's no ultimate sense of a lesson learned, nor much of a political moral. Until that final flop it's a film well worth seeing, vividly envisioned by the director and cinematographer Konstantin Mindia Esadze, and commandingly performed by Gomiashvili. And if Makhmalbaf doesn't come up with a good answer for what to do with his President and tyrants like him, it's not as if the rest of us have come up with anything better.