Far from an accessible experience, even for the relatively ardent cinema-goer, Albert Serra's The Death of Louis XIV is a slow-paced, piercing evocation on life and death, scoping its thematic assertions around Louis XIV, who died of gangrene, largely due to the inability of 18th-century medicine and its administrators. The Death of Louis XIV details the slow and steady deterioration of Louis XIV, using its tepid pacing in an aggressive way, forcing the viewer to stare into the abyss with this powerful man, and his army of doctors and counselors who can do nothing to save him, with Serra delivering a piercing document on the true weight of death, and the significance and gift that is life. Serra masterfully juxtaposes the importance of King Louis in this society, one where he is in absolute power, with the uninterested, slow, yet methodical nature of death, exhibiting how humanities' perceived power structures or societal classes, make no difference when the darkness comes for them. The overbearing decadence offers little reprieve, with the most powerful man in the country being slowly taken away. Louis XIV's deterioration and the threat that presents to his general counsel and the monarchy of France is methodically presented by Albert Serra's singular eye, revealing the backroom conversations by doctors, counselors, and men of religion, all of which have no solutions to the existential threat which defines humanity. Scientism and Religion are both man-crafted constructs which attempt to either define or explain our existence, yet Serra traverses man's various attempts at defining life itself with The Death of Louis XIV, exhibiting how they are merely one-in-same when it comes to humanity's attempts to grapple with existential meaning. Wry, yet darkly witty in tone, The Death of Louis XIV deals with some weighty and beguiling themes, one that pokes fun at the neoclassical period while simultaneously tapping into existential assertions. Albert Serra's aesthetic for The Death of Louis XIV is ravishing, using what appears to be almost exclusively natural lighting, a film which perfectly encapsulates its era, with all the lavish decadence offering little reprieve for King Louis as death approaches his door. Centered with a creative and entrancing performance by Jean-Pierre Léaud, Albert Serra's The Death of Louis XIV is a challenging film for one's attention span, yet its grandiose assertions about life and humanity, its striking aesthetic, and skilled direction, make it a memorable and entrancing experience to behold.
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