The Death of Louis XIV –
DEATH is the theme that bonds films The Death of Louis XIV and A Man Called Ove. Both are worth watching although their approaches to the issue of death are diametrically opposed.
The Death of Louis XIV lives up to its title as it tracks the last days of Louis XIV, a King who reigned in France for 72 years and died just four days before his 77th birthday. He was often referred to as the Sun King (le Roi Soleil) although he loved nothing more than a good old war and a spot of hunting.
Written and directed by Albert Serra, it draws a superb performance from John-Pierre Leaud (The 400 Blows, Stolen Kisses) as the bewigged King (and what a wig it is) who takes to his bed at the Palace of Versailles as gangrene takes grip of his body.
Leaud is utterly convincing, jesting initially with his doctors but soon calling out for water in the middle of the night (water that must be delivered in a crystal glass) and refusing to eat more than a mouthful of food as he grapples with his terrible illness that creeps up his left leg and beyond, turning it a stomach churning black.
There is one moment when the camera focuses on the King’s creased face. It shows his left cheek switching ever so slightly. It is a remarkable piece of cinematography – as well as acting from Leaud. His frailty is never more exposed.
In the half light of his bedroom, the King is surrounded by a phalanx of fawning physicians and crackpots who do their best to arrest the disease’s advance. But they are more incompetent than accomplished, often more interested in scoring points against each other than helping the ailing King.
At the centre of it all is Guy Crescent-Fagon, the King’s head physician who quite rightly on this evidence lost his position after the King’s death. He is joined by a posse of doctors from the Sorbonne and a Marseilles based quack who believes the answer to combating the King’s illness lies in copious amounts of bull’s sperm. His arrest follows shortly afterwards as the sperm fails to do its magic.
It is all rather intense but captivating at the same time. There is a sublime moment when the future Louis XV, a mere five years old and the King’s great-grandson, visits him and is told to be a ‘peaceful’ ruler. The hypocrisy of it all. There is also the horror of watching an autopsy being performed on the King and various body parts extracted from inside his chest – miles of black pudding like intestine, his heart and spleen. Thank goodness, the lobotomy was postponed for another day.
At one hour 55 minutes, The Death of Louis XIV is a little too long (if you know what I mean) for my liking. But it is worth persevering for Leaud’s fine performance alone.
A Man Called Ove –
A Man Called Ove is based on the successful 2012 novel of the same title (Fredrik Backman). It stars Ross Lasgaard (a Kurt Wallender in a previous life) as the curmudgeonly Ove who spends most of his spare time when not at work haranguing his fellow residents for a multitude of offences – dropping cigarette butts and leaving bicycles unattended. He even despises the local moggie.
When he loses his long standing job, Ove decides to fulfil a promise that he made to himself when he lost his wife – to take his own life so that he can be with her again.
A series of botched suicides follow – moments I did not enjoy one iota (hideous) but which are used as triggers to give the viewer an insight into his past life. So we are filled in about the death of his parents, his social awkwardness, his love of Saabs (inherited from his father), how he first met his wife Sonja and how ill fortune impacts on her not once but twice.
The arrival of disorganised and pregnant neighbour Parvenah (a delightful Bahars Pars) is the catalyst for change. Ove is pulled out of his insular world. He child sits, agrees to teach Iranian Parvenah how to drive and even takes in the cat he previously would shoo away. He also makes his peace with those he had previously fallen out with – as well as agrees to allow the manager of a local shop (a gay muslim) to stay with him.
What starts as a slightly awkward film ends up being something of a Swedish gem (hats off to director Hannes Holm). Heart-warming, life affirming and an advert for inclusiveness over insularity.
I will leave you to guess whether rejuvenated Ove gets his wish in the end to be reunited with his beloved Sonja (a sparkling, joyous Ida Engvoll – Nobody Owns Me).
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THE DEATH OF LOUIS XIV – 3/5
Director: Albert Serra
Louis XIV: John-Pierre Leaud
A MAN CALLED OVE – 3.5/5
Director: Hannes Holm
Ove: Ross Lasgaard
Parvenah: Bahars Pars
Sonja: Ida Engvoll