Posts Tagged ‘Romain Duris’

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MOLIERE (2008)

June 13, 2008

Moliere Review

Matt:
Tracy:

Length: 120 min

Précis: Droll farce about an imagined episode in the life of the father of French comedy, when he apparently gained the inspiration to write his own droll farces.

Review by Matt:

Evidently, during the early life of the famous 17th century French playwright Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, better known as “Moliere”, there is some missing time about which historians speculate. Where did the young Moliere go and what did he get up to? French director Laurent Tirard wonders as well, and in his witty comedy film Moliere, he imagines a farcical episode to fill in the gap. Kind of like a French Shakespeare in Love, it also tries to explain where Moliere may have gained inspiration for some of his famous plays.

The fantasy history begins after the skint Moliere (played by Romain Duris) is thrown into prison for his unpaid debts. This is a true event, but historians wonder who actually paid the price for Moliere’s release. In this account, a wealthy benefactor steps up with the cash. It’s Monsieur Jourdain (Fabrice Luchini), a wealthy nincompoop with pretensions of joining French’s upper-class milieu. He offers to take care the debt if Moliere will stay at Jourdain’s château and teach him the great art of acting. Why does Jourdain need these lessons? So he can pursue the requisite French affair of course – he wants to perform a play he wrote to win the heart of Célimène (Ludivine Sagnier), an icy darling of the French court. So Moliere dons a fake priest’s collar, and a fake name, and treads into a situation which quickly starts to resemble a pastiche of his own farcical works. As well as needing to satisfy his unusual contract, Moliere needs to hide his true purpose from Jourdain’s neglected wife, Elmire (Laura Morante). But her artistic sensibilities soon start to attract him to her as well.

Farce time! Moliere serves up a blend of droll comedy and slapstick, skipping through silly schemes, affairs, and mistaken identities with a light tone. It also examines Moliere’s love for theatrical tragedy above the comedy for which he’s loved and, although this doesn’t come across as poignantly as is probably intended, the film still accommodates it smoothly. A few incongruous or flat moments of the “climbing trellises and peering into bedrooms” variety hardly distract from the overall ebullient tone. The film also doesn’t go for the sharp satire for which Moliere’s plays are often admired, but the clownish performances by the two leads – Romain Duris with a mischievous twinkle in his eyes, and Fabrice Luchini with a likeable foolishness in his – make the film sparkle anyway. A few fanciful moments of absurdity, as Moliere tries to work with his bumbling benefactor, make the film especially worth it – one even reminded me of a favourite scene of mine from the UK series The Office, where David Brent gives an emotional speech in an ostrich outfit. There’s also plenty of sharp dialogue to make you grin and visually the film is sumptuous, decked out with all the ornate costumes and decor of the period.

Moliere aficionados – and likely most of the French audience – will appreciate the extra layer of meaning, as many of the scenes we watch incorporate famous lines and scenarios from Moliere’s own plays (here’s your chance to laugh knowingly at the literary references to prove your erudition to the rest of the theatre). Moliere’s fake priest “Tartuffe”, for example, is a reference to Moliere’s play Tartuffe, and the character is so famous that in contemporary language (French especially), the word “Tartuffe” means a hypocrite, especially one who fakes religious virtue. It’s funny anyway of course and – as proven by boorish old me – you certainly don’t have to know anything about Moliere or his plays to understand and enjoy the film. It avoids the literary pomp that might have dragged it down and is simply a well-told comic story.

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