RISE OF LOUIS XIV, THE (aka: THE RISE TO POWER OF LOUIS XIV) (LA PRISE DE POUVOIR PAR LOUIS XIV) (TV) (director: Roberto Rossellini; screenwriters: Philippe Erlanger/Jean Gruault; cinematographer: Georges Leclerc; editor: Armand Ridel; music: Betty Willemetz; cast: Jean-Marie Patte (King Louis XIV), Raymond Jourdan (Jean Baptiste Colbert), Silvagni (Cardinal Mazarin), Katharina Renn (Anne d'Autriche), Dominique Vincent (Madame Du Plessis), Pierre Barrat (Nicolas Fouquet), Maurice Barrier (D'Artagnan); Runtime: 100; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Pierre Gout; Criterion Collection; 1966-France-in French with English subtitles)

"The complex power study is a picture of clarity."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz 

This was one of several history/biography/religious films Italian director Roberto Rossellini ("Open City"/"Stromboli"/"Paisan") made for French television late in his notable career, and is one of the best in the series. It was one of the few films in that series that received a theater release after televised. Shot in a semi-documentary style, Rossellini chronicles the early days of France's 17th-century Sun King, Louis XIV (Jean-Marie Patte), showing how the diminutive awkward playboy king became serious after the death of his benefactor Cardinal Mazarin (Silvagni) and ruled the country for the next 21 years by subverting the threats of rebellion by the Fronde (fronde is a sling, which Parisian mobs used to smash the windows of supporters of corrupt statesman Cardinal Mazarin and Fronde became the term used for the peasant insurrection), keeping in check his meddling mother (Katharina Renn) by not giving her a seat of power on the council, avoiding corruption by making all decisions by himself for his government, forcing the nobles to be under his thumb by pushing them into debt by taking advantage of their extravagances, and meeting with the nobles at a substitute court at Versailles and various other spots to be away from the bad influences of parliament. The Sun King manipulated the country so that the conniving nobles lost their power by becoming in debt to him and the strong-willed king, who ruled by appearances, wisely spent Cardinal Mazarin's inheritance (who amassed his fortune serving as Chief Minister) so the merchants can prosper over the splurge in spending and the downtrodden peasants could look upon the restored monarchy with awe and be relieved that the economy stabilized so they could at least survive during his regime.

The king's strange way of maintaining power through routine, ritual and influence was effective for the country's stability and the film, though dry and didactic, does a brilliant job detailing how the king held sway over his court and obtained good government not by divine rights but by cleverly knowing how to wield power--recognizing, at one point, his honest adviser Colbert (Raymond Jourdan) and arresting his corrupt adviser Fouquet (Pierre Barrat), who was maneuvering to take Cardinal Mazarin's place as the Chief Minister of France and thereby also become a very wealthy man by peddling his influences.

The performances are outstanding, the spectacle is grand and the complex power study is a picture of clarity; also, ideas are cherished and, even in its cerebral nature, it's still accessible as a superior work of neorealism.

REVIEWED ON 6/28/2010       GRADE: A

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"