One Shot is a series that seeks to find an essence of cinema history in one single image of a movie. Albert Serra's The Death of Louis XIV, starring Jean-Pierre Léaud, is showing on MUBI in the US starting May 28, 2021 in the series Performers We Love.
Given the size and variety of Jean-Pierre Léaud’s filmography, there must be other memorable death scenes of his apart from those in Jean-Luc Godard’s Made in U.S.A. (1966) and Albert Serra’s La mort de Louis XIV (2016), half a century apart. My reason for settling on these two is that they demonstrate his prodigious range. In the first—a very bizarre piece of anamorphic Pop Art self-described as “a political film, meaning Walt Disney plus blood”—he plays “Donald Siegel,” the abused sidekick of gangster “Richard Widmark” (Laszlo Szabo), comically sporting a button that declares “Kiss me I’m Italian.” He’s dispatched in a garage by Paula Nelson (Anna Karina), a detective investigating her lover’s murder. After Siegel pantomimes committing murders of his own and other criminal adventures as they’re being recounted by Nelson in voiceover, she asks him, “If you had to die, would you rather be warned or die suddenly?” He selects the latter and as soon as she obligingly plugs him, he shouts out “Mama!” and staggers extravagantly in long shot across most of the garage floor before finally expiring. It all takes a little over twelve seconds, whereas his less showy, more minimalistic and iconic finale as the eponymous Louis XIV, shown mainly in regal close-ups, lasts for virtually all of the film’s 116 minutes.