1661: Cardinal Mazarin dies. In the power vacuum, the young Louis asserts his intention to govern as well as rule. Mazarin's fiscal advisor, Colbert, warns against Fouquet, the Surintendant who's been systematically looting the treasury and wants to be prime minister. Fouquet believes Louis will soon tire of exercizing power; he overplays his hand, offering a bribe to Louis's mistress to be his ally. She reports this to the king who arrests Fouquet. Louis and Colbert design a brilliant strategy to keep merchants making money, nobles in debt, the urban poor working and fed, and peasants untaxed. Years later, in a coda, we see Louis exercising the power of the sun.Written by
This film puts the French Baroque period into sharp focus.
Louis XIV was not judged by his contemporaries to be much of anything while Mazarin was alive. This film shows how with brains and style, he consolidated power by subtly weakening the nobility of France with "circuses and bread." Aristocrats obsessed with the King's latest style of coat while competing for his favor were not going to wage petty wars or rebel again. To keep them placated and diverted, Louis built Versailles - L'Île Enchantée, the 17th century version of Disneyworld. In that island of wonder and diversion, he turned his fractious nobles into groupies, hanging on is every word and gesture. He gave them plays, operas, masques, fine cuisine, wine, fabulous gardens to play in, and a style of living that required more money than their estates could earn. Versailles was their golden cage, and even with the door open, none wanted to fly out. A little more than a century later, his great-grandson would die on the guillotine, an end whose beginnings were sown in the isolation and excesses of the court he created to consolidate his power.
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