interview by Antonis Gkoumas
The film of Albert Serra is a strange beast. It seems like a painting, with elaborate shots and focuses on the final moments of Louis XIV (the film’s title is after all “La mort de Louis XIV”). The film oozes sarcasm, not shown explicitly, but emerging from the situation. In the film stars the nouvelle vague wonder boy Jean-Pierre Léaud in the role of the ailing famous king.
The film has won awards in international festivals and was also shown in Thessaloniki Film Festival. The director, Albert Serra did not come to Thessaloniki, but Cinepivates met him at the 60th BFI London Film Festival.
Now it will be shown on the greek broadcaster and it will be available for a week after that for screening for greek audiences.
Q: First of all, I want to congratulate you on your film and its cinematography.
A: Thank you very much. It was done in a very fast way, sixteen days of real shooting. We had difficulties on the budget. It is essential to say that we shot it with only two cameras.
Q: That is why it reminded me of paintings.
A: This is totally the point. The film has a very sweet and sensual rhythm. It had to be a little bit aesthetic in the sense that it would make you think about the solemnity of the poor. We had to prepare the shots very carefully in order to give this sense of solemnity.
Q: What was your main inspiration for this project?
A: It is very difficult to say, I really don’ t know. For me it was the combination of following this idea of absolute power. I chose Louis XIV because I looked the memoirs of the duke of St.Simon, who was a very important writer in France at the 14th century and he wrote the chronicles of that time. He was a indeed an important writer, but the things he wrote, we thought that were useless for a film. He is just displaying the facts and I could not use all the good things of the book, because it is an analysis of politics, the higher interests of people and the conspiracies. In the film I was interested about the final fifteen days, the agony and the mystery of a very powerful man facing death and the intimacy in front of the others in the sense that you have to show that your are the most powerful man and you have to die! This apparent dignity of the actual power may start to break and in a sense (show) the real fatality of death approaching. This agitation, these doubts, how he faces death, is an acceptation of death in some sense. At the same time, we see his tyrannic side, he is ordering people what to do all the time. I wanted to present it in a really complex and ambiguous way. One image is better than a book. When you see the face of Jean Pierre Leaud asking for something, you see the complexity of what he is feeling. You don’t have to be cinephile to understand that there is a complexity there. These moments are much more powerful in the film rather than the book. For me these were the moments that I really wanted to focus on and I almost based the film only on data, because the film is quite simple.
Q: Do you thing that the death of a great person -a king- is more important that the death of common people?
A: I don’t know. Maybe it is more important because it has more important consequences, as they have the power. Spiritually I don’t thing that it is more important. It depends on which other person you are talking about. In general, obviously no but it is the powerful people that decide today – you see the differences between the rich and the poor. That means that the sons of the rich people will be richer than their parents. These people die and there are consequences for other people. This also happens nowadays, but back in that time, the society was different, because people accepted in a natural way that some people were like slaves. The film talks about the irony that even powerful people that have the best doctors have to die.
Q: The thing I found sarcastic and I enjoyed was that Louis XIV was like a prisoner and although he had so many doctors, in the end they didn’t really help him and they let him die like a common man.
A: Yes, of course. They made mistakes, they were scared not to cut the leg of a historical figure. They had too much respect for the King and then they didn’t know what to do. They didn’t want to impose this painful solution and then time passed and they lost that chance. But I like this idea of the banality of this process which is quite ridiculous in some sense. I mean nobody wants to die. Your body says something, but your mind says something else. And then it’s over and the world goes on without you. There will be some consequences as we said, but nobody will commit suicide.
Q: You chose to film the movie inside one room most of the time.
A: That is because I wanted to keep this idea of the point of view of the king with all the information he had -all the information we have are those that the king has. There is one moment where he goes out with a wheelchair and the doctors keep on talking.
Q: And one moment towards the end that he looks out of the window.
A: Yes, towards the end, like his soul is ready to fly away of his dying body. Apart from that, all the information you have as a spectator is the same information that he has. For me this intimacy was much more important than the history itself. I was more fascinated by these elements, these images that can give you a more complex vision. There are just a few moments that an image can be more useful than language itself. Because in general, language can be more sophisticated and you can compose ideas easier. This is very difficult in a film. An image must give an approach to life, the complexity and the richness of life that can be closer that literature.
* The film “La mort de Louis XIV” will be shown on the greek public broadcaster on Tuesday 10th January at 00:00 and it is part of the collaboration between documenta 14 and ERT. After that it will be shown for seven days on the web tv of ERT2.