It is mid-seventeenth century Paris and Molière (Romain Duris) is a long way from realising his legacy as the true master of comic satire, the author of The Misanthrope and Tartuffe, and a dramatist to rank alongside Shakespeare and Sophocles. He is an impetuous 22 year-old, his theatre troupe is a failure, he is bankrupt and in prison because he can't pay his debts. When his jailers let him go, he disappears. He reappears several months later, when his troupe begins touring the provinces - a tour that lasts for thirteen years and culminates in Molière's triumphant return to Paris in 1658. In those missing few months, he meets an unfaithful husband (Fabrice Luchini) and his beautiful wife (Laura Morante), the object of his desire (Ludivine Sagnier) and a conniving courtier (Eduardo Baer) who leads them all into trouble.
Review by Louise Keller:
Witty lines, sumptuous settings, manicured lawns and horses with carriages provide the setting for this frivolous romp that caresses history as it plays with the misadventures of French playwright Molière. Like a puppeteer with all the right tools, writer director Laurent Tirard has brought together a wonderful cast whose members complement each other, like a perfect meal. The film is as much a combo of farcical situations as it is a comedy of errors as the young actor/playwright finds himself playing out different roles in a chaotic upper class household. It's droll and occasionally hilarious, chic and often surprising, but always engaging, and gorgeous to the eye.
Romain Duris is central to everything as the title character Molière, who learns that comedy can be as effective a vehicle for tragedy as for comic superficiality. When he is offered a reprieve for his outstanding debts, Molière quickly learns there is more value in telling his host M. Jourdain (Fabrice Luchini is formidable) what he wants to hear, rather than the truth. Masquerading as a bible-clutching priest, Molière finds himself in the role of actor, writer, advisor, go-between, negotiator, lover and acting instructor (look out for the scene in which Jourdain and Molière act out the part of a horse). Laura Morante provides beauty and heart as Jourdain's neglected wife with whom Molière becomes involved, while Ludivigne Sagnier is Célimène, the brittle and elusive Marquise whose affections Jourdain is seeking.
Whenever the characters fail to keep us off balance, the lines surely will. 'Beauty without intelligence is like a hook without bait'; 'I wasn't bred for love on credit' and my favourite 'In this house one does not earn money, one marries it,' which is beautifully delivered by Edouard Baer's slimy, titled, always-broke Dorante. With just the right balance of playfulness and ballast, Molière is oh so French and displays enough panache and verve to easily wile away the hours.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
In an audacious hypothetical, the filmmakers fantasise why Molière was cashed out of debtors prison and by whom - and what he did before he re-emerged, revitalised and took his troupe on a life changing tour of the provinces. The premise also supposes that those experiences provided inspiration and incident on which to draw for his famous subsequent works.
It's a wonderful conceit, and the adventure that has been imagined for him is typically French, in that the drivers of the action are fused to love and romance and betrayals and mistresses and lovers.
Romain Duris is fast becoming France's young male lead of choice (Beat My Heart Skipped, Inside Paris, Paris), after a decade of strong character roles. He morphs into Molière, the writer with as many weaknesses as strengths, and also manages the comedic elements. Laura Morante brings her beauty and poise to the role of a 17th century wife seduced by the young writer, and Fabrice Luchini's ability to play deadly serious and dead funny within the same moment serves the film well. Indeed, this accomplished cast (often playing in 'farce lite' mode) supplies the energy and interest to keep the film afloat even when it lags and drags in the middle.
The final act picks up both momentum and drama, delivering more of the promise inherent in the subject matter. Rich and rewarding production design includes an emphasis on fabulous fabrics and textures, and the glorious country estate settings add to the film's sense of time and place.
Occasional mis-steps and the wavering tone between dramedy and farce are momentarily distracting, but made up by scenes of energy and invention. A terrific score and splendid cinematography add to the pleasures - albeit a trifle diluted by the running time.
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CAST: Romain Duris, Fabrice Luchini, Laura Morante, Ludivine Sagnier, Edouard Baer
PRODUCER: Olivier Delbosc, Marc Missonier
DIRECTOR: Laurent Tirard
SCRIPT: Laurent Tirard, Grégoire Vigneron
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Gilles Henry
EDITOR: Valérie Deseine
MUSIC: Frederic Talgorn
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Francoise Dupertuis
RUNNING TIME: 120 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Hopscotch
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: May 1, 2008