Directed by Roberto Rossellini
The Taking Of Power by Louis XIV
“The Taking Of Power by Louis XIV” is a film by the famous Italian leader of the neo-Realist school of filmmaking, Roberto Rossellini. This is the man who made “Rome: Open City,” about the people who were forced to scuttle around the ruins of the city just after the announcement that the city would not be bombed by the Allies in the Second World War. And then he made “Paisan,” about the resistance movement in the country, then “Germany Year Zero,” about the destruction of Berlin.
And then he said, enough with the straight films, I’m going to make only films for television. And this one: “The Taking Of Power By Louis XIV” is the first of his historical films, made in 1966. It is a film that looks as though he had never made a film before. He used one zoom lens for each scene, he cast as Louis this strange young, fat, short man who was a file clerk and had never acted before, who couldn’t remember his lines so in each scene he faced a big board with his lines written upon it – which helps explain why he never looked at whomever he was talking to, and Rossellini commits the unforgivable mistake of having his actors always face the camera – except that he knows perfectly well just how to place it, and with a master like him you just go along with his choices..
This film had all the elements of a disaster, and yet it works absolutely. Now we know, from having watched the film, why Louis became the Sun King, the unequalled master of all France. He decided to gather all the nobles, the ones who had robbed him of his rightful riches, into their own apartments at Versailles, and then he had all of them imitate him in his fanciful costumes and extravagant ways, bleeding them so that as long as he fed them and housed them they could not form any intrigue against him. He knew from the start, when his protector Cardinal Mazarin died, that he could do this, and he was ruthless in carrying it out.
As a film, “The Taking of Power by Louis XIV” is a bizarre way to convey the time and place, and yet it works absolutely. The film is available now as an Eclipse DVD from the Criterion collection, and I think is well worth having for yourself.