The Sun King Becomes Mortal in “The Death of Louis XIV” April 3, 2017
In the new French film The Death of Louis XIV (La mort de Louis XIV), which screens on April 8 & 9, director Albert Serra invites the audience to witness the very last moments of King Louis XIV’s life in 1715 France.
Sunset for the Sun King
The opening sequence follows Louis XIV, played by the legendary Jean-Pierre Léaud (The 400 Blows), as he sits in a wheelchair surveying his estate. This scene—the only breath of fresh air in the entire film—lasts hardly a minute. The moment he is pushed inside begins the slow and hopeless decay of a powerful monarch, as the man often compared to the Greek sun god Apollo turns helplessly mortal before the audience’s eyes. Serra leaves out no detail; every uncomfortable movement and groan of pain is meticulously displayed in real time, emphasizing the slow nature of illness and death.
Moment by Moment
Viewers find themselves trapped in the dying king’s bedroom, as if they were lying paralyzed next to him or gossiping along with the few visitors and trusted counselors surrounding him. With each passing moment, Louis XIV looks less like a man capable of leading a country and more like a spectacle. It’s interesting to note that the last scene in the film is not the king’s last breath, but an autopsy—just one more intrusive moment the king must endure.
As Sumptuous as a Painting
One of the most stunning aspects of this film, apart from the powerful performance by Léaud, is the cinematography. The warm light, detailed wardrobes, and set design work together to make every scene as sumptuous as a painting. The visuals illustrate the characters’ continued attempts to mask the growing frailty of Louis XIV with the excessive luxuries that surround him.