'Power is shared by too many hands': the Sun King ponders problems of maintaining monarchic strength in the face of hungry peasants and conniving nobility. Rossellini displays the king's bizarre but effective methods of minimising the threat of insurgence: reserving every governmental decision for himself, assembling the aristocrats full-time at Versailles away from parliament, and forcing them into debt through emulation of his own extravagant tastes in fashion. Brilliantly marshalling performance, colour, dialogue, and above all claustrophobic space, Rossellini reveals the customs, atmosphere and ideology of Louis' reign with an unrivalled lucidity and honesty; at the same time he creates a new moral cinema of history. Draining his account of distracting dramatic artifice, he constructs a cinema of ideas, didactic without being propagandistic, cerebral but highly accessible. It's as inventive as Syberberg's tableaux, but endowed with infinitely greater clarity.
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