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Friday, July 13, 2007

Moliere the merrier

Review from Day and Night magazine in today's Irish Independent

The French comedy Moliere is a post-modern take on the formative years of the legendary Gallic satirist and author of such canonical works like The Misanthrope and Tartuffe. The action of this jaunty confection of a movie focuses on a short spell in the writer's life when he mysteriously disappeared for a number of months and imagines him in a scenario where he essentially becomes a character in the type of farce he later became famous for.

Moliere opens in Paris in 1644, where the 22-year-old actor Jean-Baptiste Poquelin (Romain Duris) – also known as Moliere – is struggling to keep his Illustrious Theatre Troupe out of the red. His problems with various creditors see him imprisoned and released on a regular basis, until, after finally being cleared by his jailors, Moliere disappears for several months.

Real-life historians have been unable to account for the writer’s activities in those missing months, and this is where Moliere unashamedly lets creative licence runs wild. The movie supposes that the broke actor came under the debt of wealthy aristocrat Jourdain (Fabrice Luchini), who wanted the young thespian to teach him how to act in order to win over a potential mistress. If his teachings bear result, Jourdain tells Moliere he will pay off his debts.

Jourdain installs Moliere in his stately home disguised as a private tutor named Monsieur Tartuffe. Once there, however, Moliere becomes embroiled in a series of comedic schemes involving all manner of cartoonish and duplicitous characters that would later form the plots of his famous works. At the same time, he also begins a passionate affair with Jourdain’s opinionated wife Elmire (Laura Morante), a romance that’s doomed to end sadly for all.

Director Laurent Tirard brings an assured hand to Moliere, borrowing heavily from the successful in-joke formula patented by the multi-Oscar winning Shakepeare in Love. However, Moliere lacks that movie’s accessibility, mainly down to the esoteric nature of Moliere’s life and work, making this a tougher sell to non-French audiences.

Nevertheless there is still a lot to enjoy in Moliere, notably the strong lead performance from Duris, who made a striking debut in last year’s quirky festival hit Dans Paris. Moliere also successfully milks the narrative’s many farcical misunderstandings for all they’re worth, as well as landing some good digs at the pompous hypocrisy of the social, sexual and class divisions of the time.

Moliere might not be the back-up option if Die Hard 4.0 is sold out on the night, but it’s worth a look nonetheless. Rating: 3/5

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