Sunday, March 11, 2018

#2,488. The Death of Louis XIV (2016)

Directed By: Albert Serra

Starring: Jean-Pierre Léaud, Patrick d'Assumçao, Marc Susini

Premiere: The movie premiered at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival

Trivia: Per the annual Sight & Sound poll, this was the 10th Best Film of 2016

Jean Pierre Leaud grew up in front of a camera. He was a boy of 14 when he played Antione Doinel, director Francois Truffaut’s alter-ego, in The 400 Blows, a character he would portray four more times over the course of his career; and in Truffaut’s Day For Night he was a precocious young actor whose sexual appetites disrupted an already-troubled movie set. 

Now, almost 60 years after he made his screen debut, Leaud stars as the title character in 2016’s The Death of Louis XIV, playing an elderly monarch coming to terms with the fact that he has very little time left. 

The year is 1715. After returning from a hunting trip, King Louis XIV of France (Leaud) feels a sharp pain in his leg, the result of a small wound. His physical condition further deteriorates when a fever sets in, and his doctors remain by his side day and night, doing what they can to nurse their king and master back to health. But when his leg turns gangrenous, the doctors realize that the King’s days are numbered, and advise his ministers - as well as the entire court - to prepare for the inevitable. 

As you can tell by that rather sparse synopsis, The Death of Louis XIV is by no means a grand eulogy; it is a methodically-paced, understated film, with many scenes of doctors crowding around the King’s bed, offering him water and rubbing ointment on his leg while they bicker back and forth as to what course of treatment would be best. Still, despite director Serra’s simplistic approach to the material, The Death of Louis XIV is a beautiful motion picture. The costumes (created by Nina Avramovic) and set pieces (decorated by production designer Sebastián Vogler) are exquisite, and do their part to bring the 18th century to life. 

That said, the film’s most engaging aspect is the performance of Jean-Pierre Leaud, who captures, in equal measure, his character’s emotional strength and physical frailty (at one point, the King ignores his doctor’s wishes and demands to attend a council of ministers, only to change his mind a minute or two after he’s been helped to his wheelchair). Every so often, the King, in spite of his constant pain, experiences a moment that brings a smile to his face; he sheds a tear of joy when his beloved dogs come rushing to his side, and sits up proudly when he hears the drums of St. Louis’s Day banging in the distance. Leaud perfectly conveys every facet of this complex individual’s personality, allowing a glimmer of the strong monarch that Louis XiV once was to shine through while, at the same time, reminding us that the end is very near. 

King Louis XIV ruled France for 72 years, from 1643 to 1715, making his the longest recorded reign in European history. He led his country through three major wars, and was a patron of the arts as well as a visionary (it was he who expanded the Palace of Versailles to its present size). 

His exploits have been the subject of a handful of movies, including Roberto Rossellini’s 1966 film The Taking of Power of Louis XIV and 2014’s A Little Chaos (written and directed by star Alan Rickman). While The Death of Louis XIV puts the focus squarely on Louis’ final days, Leaud’s magnificent performance nonetheless stands as a monument of sorts, a tribute to a once-powerful man who, by all accounts, met his end with dignity and grace.

No comments: