• Bible Films Blog

    Looking at film interpretations of the stories in the Bible - past, present and future, as well as preparation for a future work on Straub/Huillet's Moses und Aron and a few bits and pieces on biblical studies.

    Matt Page


    Friday, August 18, 2017

    The Death of Louis XIV (2017)

    Being a fan of Rossellini's The Rise to Power of Louis XIV, a regular viewer of the BBC's Versailles and having previously enjoyed director Albert Serra's El cant dels ocells (Birdsong), I've been keen to see his The Death of Louis XIV for sometime. And then there's that Truffaut box set I just bought, laden with actor Jean-Pierre Léaud's earlier work.

    Unsurprisingly Serra's take on Louis lies far closer to Rossellini's version of the story than the BBC's. The slow, long takes and minimal drama that so typified Birdsong and much of Rossellini's later work is on display again here. The opening few scenes show Louis struggling to be taken even to different locations in the palace. Thereafter, he is confined to his bed as he makes his slow transition from this life to the next. France's leading physicians, and the odd quack, try their remedies in an attempt to fight off the gangrene that has set in, but it's all to no avail.

    Whilst this is undoubtedly one film that doesn't require spoiler warnings, it's interesting to consider, briefly the other ways in which this chapter in history could have been filmed. Rather than confining itself almost solely to Louis' quarters, with him present in almost every shot, another telling of the story could have focussed on the political jostlings going on in and around court; or the reaction in the surrounding kingdoms. Here however the emphasis is almost entirely on Louis, and particularly his failing body. The Sun King is revealed to be as human as the rest of us after all. Death overtakes him as it overtakes us all. In many ways the film is not so dissimilar to The Death of Mr Lazarescu or The Barbarian Invasions, only with a greater audience. The kingdom and the world beyond may be holding its breath, but all that matters is one man's life is coming to an end. It's a story told too in minute detail from a linger shot of a tray of false eyes, to Louis' slowly blackening toes, to the increasing grimness of his servants faces as they gradually begin to realise nothing can be done.

    The film's other notable feature is its lighting and cinematography, which gorgeously recreates the atmosphere of the era's Baroque paintings. Serra, and his cinematographer Jonathan Ricquebourg, manage to strike a delicate balance between the grimness of portraying death in close up and crating beautiful art. It would be easy for one element to overpower the other, to prettify the reality of death, or to cram the film with grotesque imagery. The end result never lets us forget that Louis was both an ordinary person and an exceptional one.



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