Face to face with power

The Death of Louis XIV

La Mort de Louis XIV

Albert Serra

2016FrancePortugalSpain115 minColour


August 1715. Back from a walk, Louis XIV feels a sharp pain in his leg. Over the following days, the King continues to fulfil his duties but his nights are restless and fever sets in. He eats little and grows weaker by the day. And so begin the death throes of France’s greatest king, attended by his faithful followers and physicians.

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Fifty years exactly separate Albert Serra’s film from “The Taking of Power by Louis XIV”, produced and broadcast in 1966 on the public television station, ORTF. The Catalan filmmaker might well object, but there is a sort of underground continuity between Roberto Rossellini’s masterpiece made for French television and his own “The Death of Louis XIV”, which retraces the Bourbon’s path some five centuries after his ascension to the throne, as the man dies a laboured death in the confinement of his bedchamber. Apart from the connection between dates, various chance happenings and resonances serve as bridges to make these two films a kind of secret diptych....”The Death of Louis XIV” is both a fiction about a dying king and a documentary about an aging actor, never far-removed from the cruel spirit of the children’s game where salt is sprinkled on a snail so they can watch it writhe in all directions. While neither the Sun nor death can stare each other out, Serra takes advantage of the moment the lights go out to show a double conceit full-frame – a still life (a rotting body) and a wrecked imaginary (of monarchy by divine right). Weighed down by his sheep-like wig and suffocating from the heat behind his velvet drapes, the king seems to see his vital energy sucked up by the signs and postiches that formerly embodied his grandeur.
With “The Taking of Power by Louis XIV”, Rossellini painted a detailed picture of the purposeful deployment of a symbolic protocol designed to submit the political apparatus to a pure concept of the mind. Fifty years later and with no further ado, Serra shows the patient revenge of biology by submitting this autocratic power to the inexorable laws of reality....A vengeance that, in fact, further confirms the determination – somewhat futile but totally dizzying – of Serra’s cinema to wrench myths from their profound sleep and give them up without delay to the experience of their own extinction.
–Louis Blanchot (Chronic’art.com, 2 November 2016)

  • PRODUCTION : Capricci Films, Rosa Filmes, Andergraun Films
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