Wavelengths

The Death of Louis XIV

Albert Serra

French cinema legend Jean-Pierre Léaud takes the title role as the expiring French monarch in the stylistically rigorous and strangely transcendent new film from visionary Spanish auteur Albert Serra (Story of My Death).

Iconoclast meets icon in one of the year's most momentous and masterful works of cinema. Albert Serra, the visionary Catalan filmmaker and artist, brilliantly casts nouvelle vague legend Jean-Pierre Léaud as the aged, expiring Sun King in La Mort de Louis XIV, an entrancing, candlelit period piece that largely takes place in Louis' Versailles bedchamber in August 1715, as the king suffers through the advancing stages of a nasty case of gangrene. Before an audience comprised of a cortège of servants, doctors, and Louis' loyal dogs, the monarch's suffering and slow death transpire like theatre, the invalid's every effort and gesture — whether donning a hat, nibbling on a biscotto, or sipping sweet wine — minutely scrutinized by the anxious spectators for signs of an unlikely recovery.

Shot with three cameras in static widescreen compositions that emulate the shape of the ruler's bed, drawing upon copious literary references (such as Saint-Simon's memoirs) for historical accuracy while also invoking artistic representations of the monarch that stretch from Antoine Benoist (the king's personal portraitist) through to Roberto Rossellini, La Mort de Louis XIV is both painstakingly detailed and strangely transcendent, hushed yet extravagant. Garbed in golden silk and wearing a succession of outrageously oversized wigs, Léaud gives one of the finest performances of his career, his grandly prolonged onscreen demise made all the more poignant by memories of his mythical first role as the young Antoine Doinel in Truffaut's The 400 Blows. Riding a fine line between incongruous humour and stirring pathos, Serra's slow, de-spectacularized portrait of suffering is simultaneously an exegesis on voyeurism, an ironic commentary on the absurdity and anachronism of royal rituals, and a moving meditation on mortality. Winner of the prestigious Prix Vigo, La Mort de Louis XIV ultimately reveals death to be the greatest performance of all.

ANDRÉA PICARD

Albert Serra's five-screen installation Singularity will be exhibited as part of Wavelengths from September 8–17.

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