Monday, February 02, 2009

New DVD Review: Rossellini’s The Taking of Power of Louis XIV, Part I

The number of truly political films – films that examine politics as politics and not as a phenomenon of economics, culture or religion (i.e., examining politics as anything but politics) – are actually very rare. One of the few that does is the newly released DVD version of Rossellini’s The Taking of Power of Louis XIV, originally create for French television in 1967.

Part of the interesting features of this film is that it is a film that examines a monarchy without the sentimentality or romanticization of the vast majority of historical films about past statesmen. That is, past statesmen all saw themselves as politicians trying to solve concrete political problems. But most historical films don’t take the politics of their statesmen seriously, instead tending to focus on non-political matters like the statesman’s psychology, sexuality, love affairs, personality quirks, religious beliefs – i.e. things above politics, things below politics, but not politics.

Rossellini’s taking politics seriously leads to the movie more closely resembling a Renaissance history play than anything else, particularly one of the “accession of the young prince” dramas like Shakespeare’s Henry V.


Blogger Ignatiy Vishnevetsky said...


I'd say that all films are political, or can be seen as political, though I agree with your assessment that, amongst ostensibly "political" movies, honest films are rare--i.e. movies that are thinking politics and not drama, psychology, etc. These, we could say, "dishonest" films do have a political agenda--that populist idea that politics is ultimately boring and disconnected from the experience of every day people, that, say, a politician's "inner struggle" is more important (or interesting) than the law which might effect millions. Films about leaders too often forget that leaders have something they lead--they are isolated, but merely the most prominent members of a group.

This is true of a lot of things--sports movies, for example, are never thinking as sports. They're fairly traditional dramas or comedies that put on "boxing" or "baseball" the way you'd put on a hat or a jacket.

3:04 AM  
Blogger Alex said...

"I'd say that all films are political"

I would agree with you - every film has a politics. I made my point badly: we can examine every film in the light of politics. And films which are ostensibly not about formal, obvious politics can teach us much about politics (I consider Cassavetes' Faces immensely politically instructive, for example).

"Films about leaders too often forget that leaders have something they lead--they are isolated, but merely the most prominent members of a group."

Here's where I would disagree. Let's take The Taking of Power of Louis XIV for one example. There's effectively no coherent group that Louis XIV leads (at least initially as he's taking power). There's a bunch of self-interested players constantly conspiring against one another ......and Colbert and a handful of Musketeers. Louis XIV can count his "group" on his fingers (plus his ancestral position).

His power is more that Louis XIV knows (or can identify) a stable, comparatively just solution to France's problems rather than being at the head of the most powerful faction.

11:52 AM  

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