THE king is dancing directed by Gérard Corbiau, written by Philippe Beaussant, Andrée Corbiau, Gérard Corbiau, Didier Decoin and Eve de Castro, produced by Dominique Janne, with Benoît Magimel, Boris Terral, Tchéky Karyo, Colette Emmanuelle and Cécile Bois. 101 minutes. A Remstar release. For venues and times, see First-Run Movies, page 85. Rating: NN
movies like sade, vatel, le libertin and now The King Is Dancing mark the resurgence of the French costume drama. It's a trend that's produced extravagant-looking but surprisingly tepid films.
In The King Is Dancing, Boris Terral stars as Jean-Baptiste Lully, an Italian composer favoured by child King Louis XIV. As Louis grows into manhood, he develops a symbiotic relationship with Lully, who follows him about providing live musical accompaniment for all his activities, including sex. But when Louis's dancing days come to an end -- he can longer perform difficult steps and has fallen under the spell of disapproving religious zealots who have infiltrated his court -- Lully is shunned.
Here's a platonic love story between Lully, an arrogant, selfish artist, and Louis XIV, a self-absorbed artist wannabe, and everyone knows that two self-involved people make a pretty poor couple. The acts of kindness they exchange are motivated by self-interest. Louis allows the lascivious, bisexual Lully his sexual freedom as long as he keeps writing music for him to dance to, while Lully will stay up 24 hours serenading the ailing king because if the king dies Lully will be sent back to Italy.
This premise only takes audiences so far. It's hard to empathize with unlikeable characters, and if we don't care whether Louis turns his back on Lully, all we're left to focus on are the exquisite costumes and opulent sets.
Director Corbiau could have delved deeper into this unhealthy see-saw relationship, but then the film's subplot involving Molière (Tchéky Karyo) would have suffered. Molière is the artist Lully could never be, one whose work aims to change society by attacking the hypocrisy of the Church and bringing art to the people.
Rebellious kids, droopy-eyed gangsters and anarchistic artists show up throughout French cinema. The idea of giving society the finger and setting off on your own path doesn't seem that radical in North America, but it's the epitome of cool in France.
Sometimes this idea yields great art, and at other times it produces middling movies like The King Is Dancing.