Corbiau repeats the Farinelli formula, artistic rivalry and social private drama expressed in dazzling, sometimes excessively lavish baroque scenery, music and costume, but this time in its...
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Corbiau repeats the Farinelli formula, artistic rivalry and social private drama expressed in dazzling, sometimes excessively lavish baroque scenery, music and costume, but this time in its ultimate setting: Versailles. There are two protagonists - first the title character, Louis XIV, the French sun-king who has two passions, establishing absolute rule over the realm -after decades of religious/civil wars- by divine right and artistic brilliancy as a dancer (like Nero wrote and performed musical poetry), and starts asserting himself against the entourage of his Medici mother, the regent during his minority, by building his palace complex and launching a 'fitting' new, mainly musical display of baroque show. Secondly the musical genius Gianbattista Lulli ('Jean-Baptiste') Lully, a Florentine upstart of unbridled ambition, quickly gains the king's absolute trust, despite the nationalist and aristocratic opposition to a low-born Italian, and thus turns the normally socially humble post ... Written by
Visually a masterpiece yet historically somewhat inaccurate
Having just seen this film I was impressed and intrigued enough to want to comment on it.The subject is quite unusual-the life,rise and court of the famous French king Louis the fourteenth,the famous "sun king" as seen by his court musician,the not least famous Lully. The style,imagery,artistic means of this film reminded me of another much talked about film which also deals with a composer,Forman's Amadeus-in both films we see certain taste for the dramatic, even overtly theatrical,for haunting and often violent scenes,for the grotesque and almost disturbing. However I prefer a more disturbing,uncomfortable view of history than the typical Hollywood style of idealizing historical characters whether if actually good,bad or just complex(a mixture of good and bad,like most historical characters and most people really are). The film is historically somewhat biased,mainly for two reasons: 1.though an important part of Louis's reign,Lully's music wasn't the most important affair of state,yet in this film it is depicted as if it were the only reason of existence for France,the king,s family,his court 2.Lully and Moliere weren't the only artists to contribute to the glamor,luxury,power,glory,cultural achievements and distinctive style always linked with the sun-king's reign-there were also architects like Le Brun,Le Vau,Le Notre,tragedy-play writes like Corneille and Racine,literary critics like Boileau,carpenters like Boulle and many other,among whom even the tens of thousands of laborers,who died or became ill while turning,with immense efforts and during decades of relentless work,the inhospitable marshes of Versailles into Europe's most famous and glamorous royal residence... The sun-king is depicted in an awkward,somewhat strange way:the immense opulence of his lifestyle is known,however I always pictured him much more formal and reserved,almost arrogant,distant in his majestic dignity,exhaling a spartan sobriety and god-like greatness out of every pore. Without being a parody or caricature of the real Louis,I often got quite the opposite of what I expected-he seems to me vulnerable,lonely,often unloved and misunderstood,unbalanced,craving for appreciation and success(historically,these attitudes can be partly explained by the fact that Louis was at the beginning of his reign,before he gradually became an absolute ruler). And Louis dances...Russel's The Devils seems to anticipate this film,as we see that also Louis the thirteenth,none else than the sun king's father is also depicted as a music-lover,an innate artist rather than a monarch(remember Russel's creation and how the French king from that film was depicted wearing almost the same elaborate costumes and performing almost the same histrionic,yet fascinating dance movements),however Russel's intention was to detract French monarchy as decadent,capitalizing on the homophobic reactions the king's slightly effeminate clothing and gesture might cause,especially to the more conservative viewer. A certain homo-erotic message is undoubtedly present,however not in order to deconstruct the myth of the sun-king,it is often hinted how hard it is for Lully,who anxiously tried to closet his bisexual desires and fit into the heterosexual mainstream,to keep his secret love for the king hidden well,even if strictly heterosexual in his private life it is a historical fact that Louis the fourteenth is known to have been an extremely good-looking man and therefore likely to attract admirers of both genders-I think the actor playing Louis is a good choice as he both resembles the historical character and is handsome enough to justify Lully's crush,however a profssional dancer would have also depicted truthfully Louis the showman rather than the politician(or a politician trough his on-stage extravaganza,as an expression of power and a manipulatuive technique),this very side of the king's personality would have been the ideal part,even more than for Magimel or Tarding for brilliant real-life performers Nurejew or Baryshnikow.Another historical character with whom the sun king might be compared is the Emperor Nero-he too build an impressive,megalomaniac palace as symbol of his absolute,almost divine power(Versailles being a baroque version of the legendary Domus Aurea-The House of Gold),both being fascinated of overindulgent self-marketing by comparing themselves to particularly grand and lavish imagery like the sun,the sun-god,gold and the golden age,both of them being known not only as protectors of art but also as performance-Nero scandalized the virtuous Romans with his acting and his often effeminate costumes and parts,just like young Louis shocked the Catholic circle gathered around his aging and strict mother and some exaggeratedly pious and narrow-minded aristocrats,which rather than understanding the beauty of art played the strict moralists(though often immoral themselves). In the end,as we also know from history,the sun-king succeeds to fulfill his dreams of magnificence,however at a high cost,among the ones who payed the price being eventually the court composer himself:Lully got injured while stubbornly insisting to conduct a Te Deum which his monarch didn't even honor with his presence,this injury getting infected and causing Lully's death(this is historical fact,Lully really died this way),the whole film being,like in Amadeus,a deathbed confession recalling the most important moments in the composer's life. Even if Lully's death appears as accidental,useless and stupid,it gave his life the ultimate meaning and apotheosis-by refusing to accept the amputation of the wounded body-part he ultimately sacrificed his life to his sovereign,being the perfect subject,faithful to his master till the end,giving both his work and his love for the king a noble and uplifting conclusion,defying&defeating all the rumors and irony spread by his many rivals.
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