The Death of Louis XIV Screen 33 articles

The Death of Louis XIV


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  • Serra’s present style is conceptual and negative, as it derives all of its meaning from what it avoids, neglects, or crops out of the widescreen frame, rather than what it does—because what is does involves little aside from the placement of a camera in a dark room. This dismal framework turns The Death Of Louis XIV into a film-length longueur, begging for patience. There is a reason why Serra’s films are more widely read about than seen.

  • Albert Serra’s flatly conceptual but elaborately decorated historical drama has a short film’s worth of substance and action, and its extended death agony is mainly of symbolic import—reinforced by the incarnation of the king by Jean-Pierre Léaud... Doctors’ dubious debates about medical practice contrast with the court’s attention to music and theatre and evoke a time when art outpaced science. Serra’s ideas are serious but simple, and his movie seems to illustrate them in slow motion.

  • Serra often has reveled in the ridiculous grossness of the human body, mixing earthy humor of farts and fat with high-class source material to make for a mixture of satire, parody and exaltation. In La mort de Louis XIV, he suppresses those instincts to honor his legendary actor, treating his aging with gorgeous candle-lit portraiture and a tender care far more sensitive than those of the king’s doctors.

  • The film becomes a stare into the image of the king’s incremental undoing. The naturally produced sepias, plush velvets, and lavishly claustrophobic mise en scène all evoke Hou Hsiao-hsien’s drifty, drunk, and timeless Flowers of Shanghai (1998), except that Serra’s camera refuses to move, opting instead for protracted, immobile long takes, usually in close-up, which are only relieved by momentary cutaways to medium shots of onlookers and helpers.

  • Although others have depicted Versailles as a sort of melancholy sideshow, 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.

  • The film is as advertised: a two hour long depiction of the Death of Louis XIV. I’m skeptical as to whether it is much more than that, but as a showcase for both an expert performance from an autumnal Jean-Pierre Léaud and an attention to period mannerism and detail, it’s worth the time it takes to get to the end.

  • Serra's riffed on the Old Masters before but never with as much confidence and technical sharpness as he does here, and this newfound aesthetic force, coupled with the trust placed in a presence like Léaud, makes The Death of Louis XIV the director's finest work yet.

  • A mesmerizing elegy from the Spanish director Albert Serra... Despite this forbidding premise, the filmmaking and Mr. Léaud hold you, turning the king into a figure of pathos even as it’s also clear the rot eating away at this royal body reflects the disease that, decades later, will be excised by the guillotine.

  • There’s a lot more to say about this strange, haunting film and about Léaud’s performance, but for now it struck me as a modest yet profound contemplation of mortality and history, and perhaps the most beautiful film seen in Cannes this year – where, although it was not part of the official selection, it would certainly have merited a place in the Competition itself.

  • With floridly adorned interiors and elaborate 18th-century costumes, Serra’s images take on a natural, painterly texture; often lit by candlelight, his compositions resemble those of European modernists such as Rohmer and Oliveira, whose period films engaged artifice as much as they did art-historical particulars. What lingers long after the film, however, isn’t solely its exquisite design and aesthetic harmony, but its empathy and enrapturing humanity.

  • If Roberto Rossellini gave us “The Taking of Power by Louis XIV,” then Catalan director Albert Serra offers a bookend of sorts by watching as power is taken from the Sun King — literally, in “The Death of Louis XIV,” a claustrophobic and often grimly funny procedural that 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.

  • This is Serra’s best film, partly because of its elegant simplicity, and partly because his vast knowledge of history and his meticulous rendering of early 18th-century sybaritic existence is given vivacity and offhand life by a great actor.

  • As darkly funny as it is moving, The Death of Louis XIV reveals the absurdity of these anachronistic rituals, but even more so of death itself. There is a certain poignancy in Léaud, now 72, playing the longest-reigning French king in his final days. Gazing out from the most voluminous of wigs, barely speaking or moving for much of the film—staying horizontal, as it were—Léaud delivers a remarkable performance that concerns matters both grimly physical and dauntingly abstract.

  • Above all, the film is a testament to the singular cinematic presence of Léaud. Very few actors are capable of holding our attention for 100 minutes of screen time while essentially remaining supine throughout the film. Léaud, one of the most captivating figures in the history of film, achieves this feat with ease. His very being is cinematic.

  • Albert Serra’s amazing The Death of Louis XIV is that rare film which is beloved both by the most hardcore cinephiles, and the general public... Managing to be both playful and humorous while simultaneously profound, visually beautiful and formally rigorous, Serra has created a totally immersive and engrossing universe within one single location: the King’s claustrophobic, windowless bedroom.

  • I was amazed to find that The Death of Louis XIV was easily the most gripping film I saw in Melbourne, surpassing even Paterson and Jerry Lewis’s Smorgasbord/Cracking Up in this respect... Much as certain novels can be described as page-turners, this film is incontestably a frame-turner, and the mystery of figuring out why this is so comprises only part of its fascination. Léaud’s exquisite and convincing minimalist performance is only one aspect of this concentration.

  • The director asks us to stare long and hard at the aged visage of Léaud, now 72, pausing to reflect on the French icon’s once luminous and now fragile presence. In doing so, The Death of Louis XIV becomes at once a weirdly poignant tribute to its star, an elegy for European art cinema, and an ironic farewell to an obsolete political body.

  • Played with gusto by iconic French New Wave actor Jean-Pierre Léaud, Louis XIV is a tragic figure, a prisoner of his position. Bloated, cranky, immovable, he suffers from nightmares and pleads for water, but won’t accept it from a goblet he deems below his position. Léaud conveys formidable intelligence but also vulnerability.

  • The handsome national heritage period piece is the kind of film that Serra has thus far conspicuously refused to produce. And, restrained though the film is, he hasn’t quite obliged here either... Serra has indicated in interviews that he wasn’t interested in Léaud’s past as an actor. This has got to be bullshit: the film’s brief moments of drama and all of its morbid fascination rely on our willingness to observe, in detail, the slow decay of a treasured body.

  • The great Jean-Pierre Léaud plays the dying king as equal parts despondent and terminally embarrassed, a helpless subject for the comically wrong-headed doctors and sycophantic courtiers who bicker and whisper around him. Naturally, the film's denouement is a (fairly graphic) autopsy; but in its dark, understated way, it might be the single funniest scene that I saw at this year's festival, Toni Erdmann notwithstanding.

  • Rossellini, who’s interested in the tactics by which Louis tames the nobility, doesn’t show us the King’s final hours. That morbid task is taken up by Albert Serra’s The Death of Louis XIV. Unlike Rossellini’s film, which is filmed in radiant high-key and shows sumptuous detail of fabrics and flooring, Serra’s treatment relies on chiaroscuro, with shadow areas broken by trembling candlelight.

  • Noble, sick, pampered, and weird, Louis, as played by Léaud, becomes a stand-in (more of a sit-in) for the European art cinema of the second half of the 20th century. The film’s majesty and stateliness are undercut at all times by illness — deathbed scenes turn a museum into a hospice. Serra self-consciously removes his film from the assaultive world of media. Its slow pace and dark, lush setting require attention but also a forgetting or abandonment of the world outside.

  • The most lasting image of the year for me is Léaud as Louis XIV, an icon playing an icon, sitting paralytically on death’s doorstep in neither bravery nor cowardice but rather a simple, weary understanding as the men around him seek to delay and obfuscate. Heavy is the head that wears the crown, and in the end, all too stupidly human as well: a thought that gives little comfort to those thrown into despair by the election of a new, prematurely ghoulish and desiccated American Sun King.

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    Film Comment: Yonca Talu
    March 03, 2017 | March/April 2017 Issue (pp. 26-28)

    Shot in two weeks with multiple cameras, The Death of Louis XIV plays out like a fever dream, employing a loose structure and a claustrophobic mood to create a viewing experience that is both immersive and disorienting. Refusing to romanticize death, Serra confronts it head-on, with a clinical style indebted as much to anatomical drawings as to the medical reports and courtly memoirs (those of the Duke of Saint-Simon and the Marquis of Dangeau) that served as his source material.

  • The poignant subtext is the mortality of the great Léaud himself, whom we watched grow up onscreen as Antoine Doinel. He gives a tremendous, ironic performance, saying volumes with a quivering cheek, a twinge at the corner of the mouth. The elegant parties and playboy's pleasures a distant glimmer in his faraway eyes, Louis is suffering, though he comes alive in the presence of his beloved dogs, or when he hears the far-off drums and oboes of St. Louis Day.

  • Delicately balanced between grandeur and absurdity, Serra's film maintains this tricky equilibrium largely thanks to the icon whose face fills the screen. Louis XIV reigned for 72 years, the same number of birthdays Léaud has celebrated; in his six-decade career, the actor, no matter the role or his age, has become synonymous with cinema, with a country. To paraphrase the Sun King's famous declaration: L'état, c'est lui.

  • Mr. Léaud, who has been a star of French cinema for most of his life, clearly knows something about living in a kind of box, and he plays Louis as a tired but majestic wreck. He’s riveting, and a little alarming. As for Mr. Serra, while he often enjoys playing the foppish provocateur in his interviews, his film is sober, meticulous and entirely convincing in its depiction of period and mortality.

  • Serra’s meta-cinematic play extends well beyond the casting. Death and decay themselves become spectacular events, as the king’s retinue of doctors, aides, and courtiers watch on tenterhooks as the “divine” ruler consents to have his troublesome leg slathered in black ointment, and deigns to eat a spoonful of jelly.

  • Jean-Pierre Léaud renders a rigorous and exhaustive performance as France’s longest ruling monarch. Leaud and Serra construct a meticulously intimate look at death, filled with close-ups and profile shots while at the same time the film grows outwards, building on theatrics and iconography that border on satire. Gorgeously framed, the film’s nucleus is Leaud himself, who despite not being in history books (yet) still belongs to a certain category among French historical figures.

  • Léaud shows us stray glimmers of the droll conversationalist and irrepressible bon vivant the Sun King once must have been. But his performance is finally a magnificent stare into the abyss, a sustained contemplation of things we would rather not dwell upon but will ultimately have to face. He surrenders to the great equalizer that is death and emerges, somehow, looking like an artist newly born.

  • The sight of the legendary French actor Jean-Pierre Leaud puckering his lips, attempting to produce saliva in his dried-out gullet, really is something to behold. He resembles a gone-to-seed hound dog attempting to retain the vapours of life force, but perhaps knows that he’s not long for this Earth.

  • Serra seems intent on rendering the death of the king as accurately as possible, beautifully shot, and with hardly any commentary or subtext. The massive wigs—which appear at first to be secondary, Muppet-like characters—become prosaic, sweaty pieces of dirty clothing by the end of the film. Though Léaud, the iconic man-child, has almost no lines—mainly he just groans and drools—his presence and past filmography dominate the film.

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    Film Comment: J. Hoberman
    January 03, 2018 | January/February 2018 Issue (p. 47)

    The Death of Louis XIV is a true film object. It doesn't take you on a journey. It's not a window on the world. It doesn't care what you think any more than a stone would. Film history merges with actual history in Albert Serra's memento mori.

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