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
Belgian director Gerard Corbieu's "Le Roi Danse" is really about two things: the life of Jean-Baptiste Lully, composer to Louis XIV, and the creative chaos inherent in musical genius. Lully was probably the most controversial composer ever to serve Louis XIV. He was a Florentine attempting to fit into a French World that did not want him, but which in the end had to acknowledge his musical genius. He was a libertine who shamelessly carried on extramarital affairs with men and women at a time when a man of his station (the kings and nobles were not held to such lofty moral standards) was required to be prudish and monogamous. He was mercurial, unpredictable, unscrupulous, cold and vain at a time when advancement depended on him being subservient and capable of flattery. But Lully's wild and unorthodox ways came from the same well spring as his musical genius, which was why he retained the king's favor for such a long time. This is the Lully that is portrayed so well by Boris Terral in "Le Roi Danse." Experiencing this movie is likely experiencing wild bursts of energy on screen. The music is often the source of that energy, but Boris Terral and Benoit Magimel (whose Louis XIV is the best I have seen) contributes to it as well. Sometimes this film was criticized for its graphic portrayal of Anne of Austria's breast cancer surgery without anesthetic (a scene which, by the way, was faithful to what actually happened) or its tendency to clutter one event after the other in furious succession until Lully's career approaches a crescendo unheard of in the French music world. But it is important to remember that this what the 17th century world was like. Moreover, we are seeing that world largely from Lully's eyes as he recalls his life shortly before an agonizing death from gangrene. For Lully, the 17th century world of a music was filled with ups and downs, humiliations and triumphs, and the agony of it all was that each success (when Lully was successful) was only fleeting because Lully was only someone as long as he retained the king's favor. There is an extraordinary scene where Lully explains to his wife Madeleine that without the king he is nothing. In other words, forget about all the brilliant compositions in the past or all the great work he was doing now. If Lully could not compose works that were better than his last to hold on to the king's favor, his career was over and he was nothing.
I could go on, except I would be missing something: the artistry involved in making this film. Visually, this film is great to look at. Moreover, it is easy to mess up a film with such a complex script as this one. But the acting in it is superb, especially from Magimel (Louis XIV), Terral (Lully) and Tcheky Karyo (Moliere). Finally, Corbieu paces everything at an appropriately frenetic pace that we experience and understand the 17th century and all its uncertainties for a composer. In short, Le Roi Danse is a truly brilliant film.
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