Originally conceived of as a gallery performance, Albert Serra’s Roi Soleil is more than a filmed theatre piece or a mere record of a performance (although it is also both of those things). Following his 2016 feature The Death of Louis XIV, Serra and actor Lluis Serrat present the death throes of Louis as a kind of absurd dance, a prolonged gasp that lays bare the pompous banality of absolute power. Louis lays on the ground, unable or unwilling to stand — and Serrat gives an astoundingly physical performance, letting loose a string of unceasing guttural utterances, heavy sighs, and whimpers which are both animalistic and pathetic. The harsh, neon red lights of the single, multi-level set cast everything in a hellish glow.
The opening shot of the film (roughly 5 minutes long) is set-up along a proscenium, Louis a distant figure in the background. But the first edit brings us closer to him and gives way to more elaborate set-ups that allow the angles of the architecture to become more pronounced. Eventually, a small audience becomes part of the performance, their movements shown in jet black silhouettes that encircle Louis. They watch, uncaring, as this king succumbs to… something. Roi Soleil is a strikingly political work, presenting the once powerful as a literal bloated gas bag who can’t help but scarf down sweet treats and primp for the mirror. Serra revels in the absurdity of how the mighty have fallen, the accoutrement of a royal legacy becoming a mere fetish object, as Louis fusses with his wig. Our leaders are vain and venal, corrupted by greed and hubris — vive’ la revolucion.
Published as part of New York Film Festival 2018 | Dispatch 2.