The film is steeped in French political and cultural history, which probably places it beyond the interest of most American moviegoers, but it should play well at festivals and European art houses. And with "Farinelli" as a calling card, the film could be a candidate for limited U.S. release and cable TV sale.
This is a magnificent production with regal interiors, sumptuous costumes, a fluid camera befitting the baroque period and, of course, a soundtrack that reflects a movie devoted to not only the invention of the king's ballet but also to opera itself. Astonishingly, the production was shot not in France, but in an abandoned airport near Cologne, Germany, that has been turned into a studio.
The screenplay -- worked on by Corbiau and his wife, Andree, novelist Eve de Castro and Didier Decoin -- develops the notion that Louis XIV (Benoit Magimel) had to invent himself before consolidating power. Made king at age 14, his country is nevertheless ruled by his mother (Colette Emmanuelle). Shy and overwhelmed by the responsibilities that will one day be thrust upon him, the young dauphin throws himself into music and dance, at which he excels.
His companions in these pursuits are Lully (Boris Terral), a Frenchified Italian composer of ballet, and Moliere (Tcheky Karyo), with whom Louis pairs Lully to create theatrical works. But the Old Guard, which considers these works blasphemous, opposes them at every juncture.
A splendid dancer, Louis is determined that French dance and music dominate Europe. In this way, he will create an image of himself at the forefront of all that is good and noble and absorb the state into his persona as a great dancer so that the body of the king is identified with his kingdom.
But as years go by, the king can no longer dance, so he compels Lully and Moliere to collaborate on comedy ballets. Eventually, Moliere dies, and Louis no longer attends Lully's concerts. All of this Lully recalls from his deathbed, where he thinks back on the dancing king and the thrilling adventures they shared.
These are all difficult and complicated characters. The two geniuses are easily tempted by debauchery and confounded by a "friendship" with a king, a man who shrewdly declares that he has no friends. One observes such people with interest, but their manners and methods are often alienating.
Despite marriage and children, Lully is homosexual, and his enemies use this against him until even Louis must insist that he lead a more conservative life. Terral, as Lully, with Long Dark hair and intense features, is always in motion, as if his entire life were a piece of choreography. Louis is the love of Lully's life, in the platonic sense, and he means for his genius to reflect the king's glory.
Magimel, who reminds one of a blond Sean Penn, slowly acquires the hauteur and stature of the Sun King as the movie progresses. But one sees his sagacity even when Louis is an immature young man.
Karyo's Moliere is a gentle soul despite a rapier wit and love of satirizing piety and hypocrisy. His anger gets subsumed in his humanity and a love for creating art.
Corbiau does an outstanding job of evoking the atmosphere of the 17th century court intrigue and treachery in which the young king grows up. And the music and dance are beautifully filtered through this world of backstabbing courtiers.
But the film is ultimately more cerebral than emotional. It's history without any tragedy; instead, one merely gets the bitter disappointment of artists passed over by their royal fan. And a king who creates a "media image" for himself. In this respect, it's a very modern film.
THE KING IS DANCING
K-Star, France 2 Cinema, MMCI,
K-Dance, K2 and RTL TVI
with participation of Canal Plus
Producer: Dominique Janne
Director: Gerard Corbiau
Screenwriters: Eve de Castro, Andree Corbiau, Gerard Corbiau, Didier Decoin
Inspired by the book by: Philippe Beaussant
Director of photography: Gerard Simon
Art director: Huberg Pouille
Music: Jean-Baptiste Lully
Costume designer: Olivier Beroit
Editors: Ludo Troch, Philippe Ravoet
Louis XIV: Benoit Magimel
Lully: Boris Terral
Moliere: Tcheky Karyo
Anne d'Autriche: Colette Emmanuelle
Madeleine: Cecile Bois
Julie: Claire Keim
Running time -- 115 minutes
No MPAA rating