Albert Serra follows up his Golden Leopard-winning Story of My Death with what’s almost entirely a death-chamber piece following the titular demise of King Louis XIV. Played by none other than Jean-Pierre Leaud, Serra opens up his film with the one and only exterior shot in the entire runtime of King Louis, as he observes abundant garden. Already having problems with his leg, King Louis is carried off into the castle, where the rest of the film will play out.
With a title like The Death of King Louis XIV, it’s surprising just how funny Albert Serra’s latest is overall. While the film predominantly has Jean-Pierre Leaud rotting away in his luxurious bed, as his gangrene gradually begins to intensify, Serra’s dark sense of humor plays off the themes he’s most heavily hitting on. This is a film about deconstructing status and the fascination that the public has with those of status committing the most menial of tasks. Take just the most basic of tasks like King Louis tipping his hat or eating an egg; everything is met with a rapturous applause from all that surround him.
There’s also this self-reflexive element to the film. From a viewer’s perspective, seeing Jean-Pierre Leaud, who’s undoubtedly the most renowned French actor of our time, interact with his beloved dogs is such an absolute delight to see. Part of this is surely due to Leaud’s expressive mannerisms and expressions, but a lot of the enjoyment that comes out of this simply just has to do with the fact that it’s Jean-Pierre Leaud playing with dogs.
Outside of Serra’s thematic modus operandi, there’s something to be said about his painterly aesthetics. Serra’s lush visual design is like nothing else I’ve seen before, yet he manages never to let it take away from Louis XIV’s demise. It’s rare that a film at this caliber of technical craftsmanship manages to juxtapose as well as it does here, which is just one of the many things that elevate Albert Serra’s latest to become one of the most dazzling achievements I’ve seen in a very, very long time.