'The Death of Louis XIV': Review

By Hunter, Allan | Screen International, May 19, 2016 | Go to article overview

'The Death of Louis XIV': Review


Hunter, Allan, Screen International


Dir. Albert Serra. France, 2016, 105 mins.

A monarch's devotion to duty and service endures until the last breath in The Death Of Louis XIV, a painstakingly realised portrait of the agonising final days of the Sun King. Based on extensive medical records and the memoirs of the Duke of Saint-Simon and other courtiers, Catalan director Albert Serra's film has a documentary-like authenticity, matching the unblinking instincts of a modern reality television series with the visual allure of the old masters.

A perfectly-judged central performance from nouvelle vague veteran Jean-Pierre Leaud adds to the film's appeal, although the subject matter and sombre approach hardly scream commercial juggernaut. In regal cinematic terms this is more of a companion piece to Roberto Rossellini's The Rise Of Louis XIV (1966) than a crowd-pleaser like the Alan Bennett-scripted The Madness Of King George (1994).The film's formal rigour and the presence of Leaud should still be sufficient to endear it to significant numbers of hardcore art house enthusiasts and history buffs.

At the court of Louis XIV (Leaud), there is no such thing as privacy. Everything the King says and does is a matter of public record and frequently witnessed by the Royal household. Any loss of appetite or sign of vigour is considered an omen. Crowned King in 1643, Louis's reign is the longest of any European monarch. The film begins in 1715 as the aged King suffers horrible pains in his leftleg and is confined to bed.

Royal obligations continue as a group of doctors, including Fagon (Patrick D'Assumcao), seek a remedy in a change of diet, the consumption of donkey's milk, recourse to bleeding and other futile suggestions. …

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