The Death of Louis XIV
Directed by Albert Serra
August 1715. After going for a walk, Louis XIV feels a pain in his leg. The next days, the king keeps fulfilling his duties and obligations, but his sleep is troubled and he has a serious fever. He barely eats and weakens increasingly. This is the start of the slow agony of the greatest king of France, surrounded by his relatives and doctors.
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★★★★ review by Redfern on Letterboxd
Serra's Louis XIV is quite the opposite to Rossellini's; where Patte moved with bold grace and gestural precision, Léaud is static - unable to move without the aid of his valet or many sycophants. The power that was once shaped by presence is now wholly abstract, a grunting, fat old man lying in bed and moaning for water. Serra stages Louis' slow and painful death in a single room where the lights are soft and dim and barely illuminate the entirety of the space. Indeed, Léaud yields up Louis' soul without any effort, like a candle going out before being picked apart by the buzzards.
★★★★ review by Filipe Furtado on Letterboxd
The frailty of man and the ceremonial of death. Leaud (as usual as much an avatar of Nouvelle Vague vitality as an actor) wasting away at the hands of rigorous current cinema. The pastoral horror mood of Story of my Death applied to radical different space. A study on stillness and the relationship between drained colors and reds. The more Serra takes away, the closer his film comes to become a formalist thriller.
★★★★ review by Jonathan Rosenbaum on Letterboxd
★★★★½ review by chelsea on Letterboxd
just feeling very conflicted. this is GOOD. very beautifully shot and leaud is great and the use of sound (every movement sounds like it's covered in slime) and it's just so SENSUAL. the heavy breathing, the hair, the water, the food, the orange tongue, the sores, the textures of silks and velvets and laces and furs ... and then that one scene where he looks straight at the camera set to opera music.... and then when they dissect him.... so good
but it's so torturous. can you enjoy a film that is such an extended, sensual depiction of the act of dying? how to reconcile visceral suffering with formal greatness...
★★★½ review by Patrick Devitt on Letterboxd
Albert Serra follows up his Golden Leopard-winning Story of My Death with what's almost entirely a death-chamber piece following the titular demise of King Louis XIV. Played by none other than Jean-Pierre Leaud, Serra opens up his film with the one and only exterior shot in the entire runtime of King Louis, as he observes abundant garden. Already having problems with his leg, King Louis is carried off into the castle, where the rest of the film will play out.
With a title like The Death of King Louis XIV, it's surprising just how funny Albert Serra's latest is overall. While the film predominantly has Jean-Pierre Leaud rotting away in his luxurious bed, as his gangrene gradually begins to intensify, Serra's dark sense of humor plays off the themes he's most heavily hitting on. This is a film about deconstructing status and the fascination that the public has with those of status committing the most menial of tasks. Take just the most basic of tasks like King Louis tipping his hat or eating an egg; everything is met with a rapturous applause from all that surround him.
There's also this self-reflexive element to the film. From a viewer's perspective, seeing Jean-Pierre Leaud, who's undoubtedly the most renowned French actor of our time, interact with his beloved dogs is such an absolute delight to see. Part of this is surely due to Leaud's expressive mannerisms and expressions, but a lot of the enjoyment that comes out of this simply just has to do with the fact that it's Jean-Pierre Leaud playing with dogs.
Outside of Serra's thematic modus operandi, there's something to be said about his painterly aesthetics. Serra's lush visual design is like nothing else I've seen before, yet he manages never to let it take away from Louis XIV's demise. It's rare that a film at this caliber of technical craftsmanship manages to juxtapose as well as it does here, which is just one of the many things that elevate Albert Serra's latest to become one of the most dazzling achievements I've seen in a very, very long time.
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