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The malady lingers on

Original and extraordinary, The Death of Louis XIV charts the demise of the king as he tries to continue to rule

13 July, 2017 — By Dan Carrier

Jean-Pierre Léaud in The Death of Louis XIV

Directed by Albert Serra
Certificate 12a

CAN you imagine the fear felt by someone in the 1700s when faced with a progressive medical condition but armed with scant information as to what exactly is wrong with them? Can you imagine a slow descent as whatever malady it is gains a toehold, creeping through your flesh?

And can you imagine, all the while, being surrounded by quack physicians, concerned family and demanding courtiers, requesting urgent answers to questions you are too ill to understand?

This is what happened to Louis the XIV of France in 1715: he had been out hunting, enjoying what was his seventh decade on the throne, when he felt a twinge in his leg.

He went to bed, became consumed by a fever, and then, over the summer, slowly slipped away as gangrene took hold. This extraordinary film, starring veteran French screen actor Jean-Pierre Léaud, charts the demise of the king as he tries to continue to rule.

Albert Serra has gone all out with his creation of the Sun King’s world. We watch as this creature succumbs, but tries desperately to continue to play the role he was born into. Highly stacked powdered wigs, luxuriant bed chambers, the best medicine money could buy all create a sense of his entitlement and how little it matters when a small micro-organism nestles in and quietly takes hold.

This film has wooed people at film festivals across the globe, and no wonder. Its subject matter is original, its demands of the viewer small. It simply sucks you in and hypnotises. Each scene appears to be a 17th-century painting come to life – moodily lit, it creates an atmosphere – a very clever trick that transports you through time to the deathbed of a king who changed the face of France.


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