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Death of Louis XIV, The

10/10

Stars: Jean-Pierre Léaud, Patrick D’Assumcao, Marc Susini, Irene Silvagni, Bernard Belin, Jacques Henric

Director: Albert Serra

Léaud, superbly moving here as the dying French monarch, has appeared in over 90 movies.

That said, however, it’s my guess that only the most devoted (obsessive?) film buff is likely to be able to come up with many of his screen credits other than his second film, made at the age of 13, when he immortalised himself playing troubled uncontrollable schoolboy Antoine Doinel in Truffaut’s 1959 classic The 400 Blows.

Given the title, suspense is absent. Not that it matters since Serra’s cinematic mastery as both director and screenwriter (based on the memoirs of a pair of French courtiers who were present during the dying days of the monarch) kept me fascinated and held me all the way.

"The film”, says Serra, “is about a man preparing for his own death, living in pain every day despite being the King” and he brings these characteristics to vivid life in a series of individual tableaux and scenes which impress on their own and add up to potent storytelling in sequence.

Apart from a brief opening scene, the entire story is set in the dying monarch’s bedroom where, the perfectly recreated period detail and costumes, ideally paced storytelling and Jonathan Ricquebourg’s atmospheric cinematography serves as a telling background to Léaud's extraordinary performance which allows us to share in the dying monarch’s claustrophobia as he approaches death while having to deal, variously, with his valets and visitors, people trying to con money out of him and, early on, enjoying spending time with “the dogs that I love so much” before gangrene claims his life.

D’Assumcao does well as the monarch’s faithful valet and credible cynicism is effectively injected into the scenario when a counterfeit medic attempts to ‘cure’ Louis with an ‘elixir’ compounded from, among other less than pharmaceutically proven elements, bull sperm and frog fat.

Léaud effortlessly takes the dramatic laurels with an unforgettable portrayal of the increasingly pain-ravaged monarch, his ever-more gaunt features, bizarrely framed by a giant periwig, vividly conveying his inevitable fate through subtlety rather than BBC TV period style overacting.

(Incidentally - the 12A certificate probably derives from a credibly staged postmortem sequence)

Alan Frank

France 2017. UK Distributor: New Wave Films. Colour.
115 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 12A.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 1, Violence/Horror 1, Drugs 2, Swearing 0.

Review date: 23 Jul 2017