THE DEATH OF LOUIS XIV [La Mort de Louis XIV]
A Film By Albert Serra
Genre: Drama • Year: 2016 • Country: France | Portugal | Spain • Running Time: 115 minutes • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 • Image: Colour • Language: French
Making a welcome return to the London Film Festival, visionary Catalan filmmaker Albert Serra follows his acclaimed 2013 drama Story of My Death with another contemplative, introspective chamber piece, here turning the gaze on one of Europe’s greatest Royal figures for this sumptuous, painterly study of the final few weeks of the great Sun King, Louis XIV.
Adapted from the Memoirs of the Duc de Saint-Simon, and unfolding almost entirely in the King’s candlelit Versailles bedchamber in the August of 1715, Serra’s meticulous, chiaroscuro period drama follows the ornately bewigged Monarch’s slow, agonising battle through the advancing stages of gangrene, all the while intricately scrutinised by a devoted audience of doctors and close, personal advisors.
Taking on the role of the eponymous figure is one of the true legends of French cinema, Jean-Pierre Léaud. Once the epitome of youth and Nouvelle Vague rebellion, the now 72-year old screen veteran turns in what is quite possibly his finest perfomance to date as the ailing king. Léaud’s minimalist yet expertly rendered performance perfectly conveys the gradual depletion and unavoidable decay of an indomitable and utterly determined man in heartbreaking and suitably majestic fashion.
Impeccably shot by cinematographer Jonathan Ricquebourg, the rich, evocative image firmly draws the viewer into the claustrophobic, dimly lit confines of the private chamber as we voyeuristically observe the bedridden, barely-moving King’s every gesture, with the increasing shadows, flickering candlelight and absorbing, rich hues of the room closely echoing Louis’s own ailing health.
Incredibly beautiful and deeply philosophical in equal measures, Serra masterfully blends the gentle, darkly comic intimacy of the bedchamber sequences with a poignant look at the Royal protocol that must all the while continue to be upheld. As the King slowly deteriorates in his stifling bedchamber, the various spectators hiding the King’s declining state from public knowledge anxiously pray for signs of recovery that soon becomes increasingly slim.
With The Death of Louis XIV, Albert Serra has produced one of the year’s most exquisite and visually rewarding pieces of cinema, fusing magnificent opulence and searing realism in effortless style.
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