The Taking of Power by Louis XIV (1966, Roberto Rossellini)

Polite, ornate historical movie, shot 4:3 for television in grand color. I had to look this up: XIV was two Louises before the Louis who married Marie Antoinette then got killed in 1793 by the French Revolution. All these Louises had long reigns, so the movie takes place a good century before the Revolution.

This Louis seems a pudgy weakling, more interested in partying and women than in ruling the country, until his main advisor Cardinal Mazarin dies. From then on, the king decides to take charge, proclaims that all policy must be personally approved by him, and arrests the advisor who had schemed to take control after the cardinal’s death.

At the end, the King moves the palace to Versailles, and gets all the nobles to follow him there, consolidating all power around himself.

dying cardinal mazarin:

I wonder if there were commercial breaks when this first aired – it has the abrupt fade-outs at the end of scenes that usually signal that an ad is coming. J. Hoberman says Rossellini’s late TV works “have an intimacy well-suited to the small screen,” but I watched this movie and all his others on my laptop screen, so I’ve long ago lost the difference between theatrical and television. It didn’t seem any more intimate than the Ingrid Bergman films.

Some truth from Tag: “‘You always have to try to emphasize the emotion,’ said Rossellini. Despite the strange rumor in film textbooks that Rossellini siezes reality in the raw, in fact, he carefully crafts his display.”

Louis in his fancypants:

It has a theatrical quality, with people standing and stuffily proclaiming things to others who ought to know already. You’ve gotta mix exposition with your realism if you want audiences to understand your history-lesson TV-movie. The king seems a stiff actor at first, but I started to like him. He never smiles, and the closest he ever gets to a look of glorious kingly determination is a sort of sad droop with shades of anger. It’s quite a good movie but I guess I don’t understand what makes this different from other historical fiction, how Rossellini thought of his TV work as an educational revolution, or how this became an Anthology Film Archives staple.

Louis’s mom is kind of mean to him:

Renzo: “He had a utopian vision: to save the world through television. His utopian vision was that television could free mankind from ignorance, and that freeing mankind from ignorance would also eliminate hunger and unemployment and all other evils. He considered ignorance the source of all the world’s ills. He thought that his function as a mature director was to achieve this. Hence the idea of making films based on history as the font of knowledge, and the idea of describing the world through television.” Tag says R.R. announced in 1962 that cinema is dead and made a doc on the history of iron, which flopped, causing him to be quite depressed. A couple years later, Louis XIV was chosen to close the Venice Film Festival, and a third of the French population watched it on TV. Tag says you can learn more about the life of Rossellini’s historical subjects from a desk encyclopedia than from watching the films, so the films are more for conveying the emotions of the events. “Rossellini’s heroes are the loonies who turn the most damn-fool ideas into reality. … heroes whose inner fire takes us with them into our new reality. … but in Louis’s case, as often in history, the big effort is to subjugate people rather than illuminate them, to create slaves who think they’re free.”

scheming Fouquet:

The guy playing Louis was an office clerk and amateur play director, nervous on camera, reading most of his lines off a blackboard. Colbert, mustachioed advisor to the king, is Raymond Jourdan of Renoir’s The Elusive Corporal. But mostly they’re first-time or small-time actors. Script adapted by Jean Gruault, who worked with Rivette, Truffaut and Resnais.

Tag calls it “the story of a man who was afraid and so creates a new reality where he’ll control everyone … it’s a horror film.”