The Death of Louis XIV
Jean-Pierre Léaud plays King Louis XIV of France during his final days.
If Jean-Pierre Léaud is the star of Spanish filmmaker Albert Serra's sumptuous and slow-moving depiction of the French monarch's final days, his co-star would have to be the fantastic wigs that he wears throughout: the grey hair teased and shaped into a pair of frothy clouds that envelope and cushion his head against the rich satins and brocaded silk of his bed cushions. Léaud is almost unrecognizable beneath the powder and the burdens of the flesh: he is no longer the boyish wunderkind who dominated the early years of French New Wave cinema, when he starred in such classic films as The 400 Blows and Jean Eustache's The Mother and the Whore. His performance here, though, is impeccable: a tattered lion, regal and weary, stoically facing his demise.
According to all I've read The Death of Louis XIV is a meticulously accurate recreation of the final days of the Sun King, based on first-hand accounts and contemporary sources such as the memoirs of the duc de Saint-Simon. There is no dramatic "action" in the usual sense of the word, the film playing out in a series of candle-lit tableaux that resemble the chiaroscuro paintings of Caravaggio and others, as the king's doctor and members of the royal court hover at the royal bedside with furrowed brows. From their covert glances, and their guarded exchanges of opinion expressed in hushed undertones, you gradually come to understand the dramatic tensions which are at play, everyone aware of the dramatic events that will be set in motion when the king's life finally comes to an end.
There are no more screenings of The Death of Louis XIV scheduled as part of this year's VIFF, but look for it in general release. You can watch a trailer of the film here.