Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Sun King Returns

The Taking of Power by Louis XIV (Criterion Collection)
ImageIt won’t become a best-seller, but the release of Roberto Rossellini’s The Taking of Power by Louis XIV is one of the Criterion Collection’s greatest artistic triumphs, and is among the most brilliant and uncompromising historical films ever made. This 1966 study of the 17th century “Sun King” eschews everything usually contained in epic biopics–a huge canvas, battle scenes with thousands of extras, trite romantic subplots and melodramatic intrigues–to concentrate entirely on the everyday, as if Rossellini stepped out of a time capsule to record these events (the death of Cardinal Mazarin, the building of Versailles, the arrest of minister Fouquet) as they happened, instead of recreating them cinematically through the prism of 300 years of history. Not a movie history lesson a la David Lean or Richard Attenborough, Louis XIV rewards those willing to meet its demands more than halfway. The contextual extras include a multimedia essay by Tag Gallagher and interviews with the director’s son Renzo (who helmed a pivotal scene when his father was out of the country), artistic advisor Jean-Dominique de La Rochefoucauld and script supervisor Michelle Podroznik.
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