La Mort de Louis XIV (The Death of Louis XIV) – Jerusalem 33
Albert Serra’s cinema once again reaches the boundaries of experimentalism as he explores the historic figure (and death) of Louis XIV. Wilf Family Foundation Award at the 33rd Jerusalem International Film Festival.
There is something irresistibly exhilarating and at the same time almost unbearably irritating about the new cinematic exploit by Albert Serra. It’s a clammy doubt, a suspicion that, like a snake, makes its way through the screening: is it all a fraud?
Like all the previous movies directed by this controversial Catalan enfant terrible, The Death of Louis XIV (La Mort de Louis XIV) could be easily dismissed as a prolonged joke, a cheeky and exasperating arthouse cinema parody. Since its premiere in Cannes, early this May, the reactions have in fact been mixed. And even in Jerusalem, where the jury of the inaugural International Competition gave the movie the Wilf Family Foundation Award, part of the audience left the Cinematheque way before the end.
Serra’s utterly static mise-en-scène is hard to stand. Take it or leave it, as they say. Yes, but what is there to take?
Above all, a great Jean-Pierre Léaud. The legendary French actor is the main attraction of the movie, its raison d’être. He dominates the screen, occupying it with his unmistakable profile and his languid stare. A dying body on a bed, a fierce but growingly hollow face hidden in the bulges of massive wigs: this, and nothing more, is here Louis XIV of France. Serra takes the Sun King and, with cold irony and malice, strips him of his aura of omnipotence and downgrades him to the level of one of his nameless and powerless subjects. The entire movie is built on this simple idea: to follow the last days of a glorious monarch on the verge of becoming worm food.
For two hours the camera never leaves the king’s bedroom, which slowly turns into a crypt, and finally into a morgue. Sunk into his character like a tired vampire waiting for the morning light, Léaud plays with some nervous greyhounds, eats tiny crumbly biscuits, spits Alicante wine, mumbles prayers and orders, sweats and screams alone in the dark, challenges the viewer in an endless and nerve-wracking close-up “ennobled” by a deafening Kyrie eleison. We are literally forced to see him rot and pass away, while all around his deathbed crawls a group of depressed doctors, histrionic charlatans, aristocratic parasites and mummified clergymen, who are simply incapable of arresting the royal gangrene and the inevitable consumption of their time and its rituals.
Fraudulent or not, Albert Serra’s cinema once again proved itself to be death at work on history and imagery. With a grin.