by Paul Attard Film Horizon Line

The Death of Louis XIV | Albert Serra

March 31, 2017

“Everything disgusts me,” exclaims dying King Louis XIV (Jean-Pierre Léaud). The most disgusting thing present? The repulsive nature of aristocracy, laid out in full view in Albert Serra’s aptly titled The Death of Louis XIV. After a hunting trip, the Sun King feels a sharp pain in his leg. What follows is the ironically slow death of one of history’s most powerful men. Doctors recommend that he drink donkey’s milk to cure his gangrene, while they rub his leg with ash in the hope that their king recovers.

Humor arises from the vast stupidity of everyone surrounding Louis, and their indifference to how ineffective their actions are. (“Gentlemen, we’ll do better next time.”) This plays into Serra’s worldview of the lunacy of nobility and highlights how mortal and inconsequential Louis is as his aids try to pump wine into him. Most of this weight rests with Léaud; the camera never leaves Louis’s room, or even his face. Léaud’s subtle expressions make his character’s regression even more palpable and human, giving the true feel of a man ready to accept death. At one point, Léaud stares directly at the camera for about a minute, as if Louis XIV is telling the audience he knows what his fate will be—that it’s only the idiots around him who don’t know what’s happening.

Published as part of Toronto International Film Festival 2016 | Dispatch 1.