The Death of Louis XIV ★★★½


My capsule review from my TIFF Wavelengths coverage for MUBI:

Ernst Kantorowicz’s concept of the “two bodies” of the regent—the symbolic embodiment of the State as well as a frail, flesh and blood human—gets a magnificent cinematic treatment in Albert Serra’s other great contribution to this year’s TIFF*. In burnished ambers and Van Dyke browns evocative of both the canvases of Rembrandt and the candlelit interiors of Barry Lyndon, we observe the sad pageantry of Louis as he struggles to pull himself up, to swallow food, and to conduct even the most banal business of his court.

As embodied by Jean-Pierre Léaud in a magnificent late-career performance, Louis is all too human (receiving open-mouth kisses from his beloved dogs), performative (“pleasing” the ladies with a theatrical wave of his garish ostrich-plumed hat), and ultimately a prisoner of the position that has been bestowed upon him by the Almighty. Will he have an appetite today? A phalanx of courtiers surrounds his bedside, applauding his ability to force down a bite of pudding. Although others have depicted Versailles as a sort of melancholy sideshow (most notably Sofia Coppola, in her unfairly maligned Marie Antoinette), Serra is not so much interested in the king as a locus of power. In that regard, those around him are much more conniving and worth keeping an eye on.

No, much like his studies of other personages from the history of Western civilization—Casanova, Dracula, Don Quixote—Serra is fascinated by the word made flesh and the point at which history and legend atrophy into muscle, blood, and bone.

*I refer here to Serra's astonishing TIFF '16 double play, presenting Louis XIV the same year as his five-screen installation masterwork Singularity.

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