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King is Dancing, The

Le Roi danse

Following his success with Farinelli and The Music Teacher, director Gerard Corbiau again combines his obsession with music and history in the sumptuous costume drama The King is Dancing, which explores the relationship between the Sun King, Louis XIV of France, and the Italian composer Jean-Baptiste Lully. The young Louis was fascinated by dance (a very popular art in 17th century France) and he loved the music of Lully, who became his composer and choreographer. When he assumed full power in his twenties, Louis made himself the centre of an enormous artistic movement. He understood instinctively that power belonged to he who invented the best image of himself, and Lully played a key role in moulding the image Louis wanted to project to the world.
Both the history and the music are crucial elements in Corbiau’s film, which has the budget as well as the expertise to conjure up a time and its culture in magnificent detail. The King is Dancing is also a melodrama about obsessions that are artistic, personal and political. Louis (played as an adult by the very impressive Benoît Magimel, last seen as the student in The Piano Teacher) uses the arts to forge an image of himself and his country. He also uses the tortured, bisexual Lully (Boris Terral), who is forced to work with the playwright Molier (an excellent Tcheky Karyo) in developing a new form of musical theatre that was to become the French opera.
Although The King is Dancing encompasses a wide variety of key historical and cultural events, one suspects that Corbiau’s real obsession is with Lully and his wonderful music. Great care has been taken with the music, much of which was specially deciphered and orchestrated for the film under the direction of Reinhard Goebel. In a recent interview in the Guardian, conductor William Christie said he wished for ‘a fully-fledged, pull-out-all-the-stops performance of one of the Lully tragedies lyriques.’ Corbiau’s film could be seen as a very cinematic realisation of that dream.
France, 2001. English subtitles. Colour. Anamorphic. Dolby/dts digital stereo. 114 mins.

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