×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘The Death of Louis XIV’

Jean-Pierre Léaud plays the title role in Albert Serra's claustrophobic and often grimly funny depiction of the dimming of the Sun King.

With:
Jean-Pierre Leaud, Patrick D'Assumçao, Marc Susini, Irène Silvagni, Bernard Belin, Jacques Henric.

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt5129510/

First, Robert Rossellini gave us “The Taking of Power by Louis XIV,” and now Catalan director Albert Serra offers a bookend of sorts: In “The Death of Louis XIV,” we watch as power is taken from the Sun King. This claustrophobic and often grimly funny procedural stays largely confined to the bedside of the debilitated monarch (played by Jean-Pierre Léaud) as he deteriorates during his final days, endlessly poked and prodded by the big medical brains of his court.

Closer to the waggish spirit of Serra’s first two features — the “Don Quixote” riff “Honor of the Knights” (2006), and “Birdsong” (2008), a deadpan take on the Three Wise Men — than it is to his arthritic 2013 Locarno winner, “The Story of My Death” (which incorporated elements of the Casanova and Dracula legends), “The Death of Louis XIV” continues the director’s overall project of bringing larger-than-life figures down to human scale, and imbuing literary and historical tales with real physicality and immediacy. Facing further festival play and a forthcoming release from Cinema Guild, the new movie seems likely to win Serra his widest audience yet.

As minimalist as Serra’s films can be, they are rarely boring, and often given to wry wit. “The Death of Louis XIV,” which Serra derived from the accounts of two courtiers present during the king’s last days in 1715, even culminates in one of the all-time-great-gallows-humor punchlines, a worthy rival to “They are all equal now,” from “Barry Lyndon.” The director’s aesthetic perversity extends to casting screen legend, charisma magnet, and honorary Palme recipient Léaud in a role that keeps him almost entirely prostrate. The part often forces the actor to appear nonverbal and writhing in pain, in a wig that can make him look like a giant poodle. Patrick d’Assumçao plays the closest of Louis’ physicians, the one who most seems to have the king’s comfort in mind.

In the movie’s only real glimpse of the outdoors, an ailing Louis is first seen being pushed in a wheelchair against a lush Watteauvian landscape. Initially, he is still hale enough to pant in unison with the beloved court dogs, and it seems as though Versailles’ collective relief is in order when he briefly regains his appetite. But his current illness is a one-way street, and most of the film is given to hovering over and around him as he worsens. Attendants put ointment on his legs and bleed him repeatedly, ostensibly to stave off the spread of gangrene, before finally administering last rites. When a crank doctor from Marseille insists on giving him an elixir whose ingredients include bull sperm and frog fat, Louis struggles to imbibe. The abuse to the king’s body continues even after his death; Serra watches as the regal remains are removed in barehanded surgery and pored over (“It’s a good size,” someone remarks of his intestines). Truly, this is cadaver-handling fit for a king.

If Rossellini’s film was an intelligent chronicle of political calculation, in which the young Louis showed a shrewd recognition of the importance of symbolism in accruing power and used gaudiness as a tool for wooing a jealous aristocracy, “The Death of Louis XIV” depicts the endurance of such protocols at the end of his reign. The members of Louis’ retinue, far more used to politicking than to confronting mortality, do their best to save face, unwilling to admit helplessness or ignorance at the prospect of the king’s inevitable death.

Yet if that makes “The Death of Louis XIV” sound like a slog, the vividness of the realization — with a sound design that emphasizes every chew and tick of the clock — makes the movie continually engrossing. Not only are the sets and costumes appropriately flamboyant on what had to be a low budget, but the camera work in the king’s dimly lit room also makes an excellent case for digital’s dexterity with low-light shooting.

Film Review: 'The Death of Louis XIV'

Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (Special Screenings), May 19, 2016. Running time: 110 MIN. (Original title: "La Mort de Louis XIV")

Production: (France) A Cinema Guild release (in U.S.) of a Capricci production, in co-production with Rosa Filmes, Andergraun Films and Bobi Lux. (International sales: Capricci, Bordeaux.) Produced by Thierry Lounas, Albert Serra, Joaquim Sapinho, Claire Bonnefoy. Executive producers, Bonnefoy, Montse Triola.

Crew: Directed by Albert Serra. Screenplay, Serra, Thierry Lounas. Camera (color, widescreen, HD), Jonathan Ricquebourg; editors, Serra, Ariadna Ribas, Artur Tort; music, Marc Verdaguer; production designer, Sebastian Vogler; costume designer, Nina Avramovic; sound, Jordi Ribas, Anne Dupouy; visual effects, André Rosado, Xavier Pérez; assistant director, Maïa Difallah.

With: Jean-Pierre Leaud, Patrick D'Assumçao, Marc Susini, Irène Silvagni, Bernard Belin, Jacques Henric.

More Film

  • Michael B. JordanAFI Awards Luncheon, Los

    Film News Roundup: Michael B. Jordan's Hitman Drama 'Silver Bear' Gets Director

    In today’s film news roundup, Michael B. Jordan’s “The Silver Bear” finds a director, biopic “Running for My Life” is in the works, Fox is using new trailer compliance software and the 14-hour “La Flor” gets distribution. DIRECTOR ATTACHMENT More Reviews TV Review: 'This Giant Beast That Is the Global Economy' Berlin Film Review: 'Flesh [...]

  • Kevin Costner Diane Lane

    Kevin Costner, Diane Lane to Reunite in Suspense Thriller 'Let Him Go'

    Focus Features has tapped Kevin Costner and Diane Lane to star as a husband and wife in the suspense thriller “Let Him Go.” The two also collaborated on “Man of Steel” and “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.” Thomas Bezucha (“The Family Stone”) is set to direct his own screenplay, based on Larry Watson’s novel [...]

  • Chris Hemsworth Hulk Hogan

    Chris Hemsworth to Play Hulk Hogan in Biopic for Netflix

    Netflix is in the early stages of developing a Hulk Hogan biopic with Chris Hemsworth attached to star as the wrestling legend and produce. Netflix has obtained the exclusive life rights and consulting services from Terry Gene Bollea AKA Hulk Hogan. Todd Phillips, whose credits include “War Dogs” and “The Hangover” trilogy, is attached to [...]

  • Rooftop Films Announces Filmmakers Fund Grant

    Rooftop Films Announces Filmmakers Fund Grant Winners

    Swedish documentary filmmaker Anastasia Kirillova and “Negative Space” co-directors Ru Kuwahata and Max Porter are among the filmmakers who will receive grants from Rooftop Films to help complete their upcoming projects. Kirilova will be awarded $20,000 to finish her film, “In the Shadows of Love,” while collaborators Kuwahata and Porter will receive $10,000 for “Dandelion [...]

  • Jim Gianopulos

    Paramount Chief Jim Gianopulos Unveils Diversity Initiative

    Paramount Pictures chairman and CEO Jim Gianopulos has announced that all studio productions will be required to complete a plan to enhance diversity. Wednesday’s reveal follows Paramount’s commitment to participating in Time’s Up and Annenberg Inclusion Initiative’s 4% Challenge. The name is derived from women having directed only 4% of the country’s top grossing movies [...]

  • Leave No Trace

    Oscar Analysts Are Sincere -- but Often Totally Wrong

    With Oscars arriving Feb. 24, we can expect multiple “who will win/who should win” columns. There will also be a flurry of post-show analyses about the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences and why members voted the way they did. Since AMPAS never releases polls or voting tallies, these pundits will never be contradicted [...]

  • Green Book spiderman into the spider

    On Eve of Oscars, Variety’s Film Experts Answer Three Pressing Questions

    We continue to live in a divided world, with the current political landscape in the United States a seemingly endless hotbed of tumult and acrimony. Issues of racism, bigotry, diversity and gender equality drive the creative players as well, with Oscar-nominated films parlaying said themes into compelling, thought-provoking cinema. To analyze 2018 in big-screen entertainment, [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content