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France 2007
Directed by
Laurent Tirard
120 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
4 stars


Synopsis: In mid-17th century Paris, Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, also known by his stage name, Molière (Romain Duris) bad tragedian and head of his own company of players unable to pay his debts is thrown into prison. He is rescued by a wealthy merchant M.Jourdain (Fabrice Luchini) who has written his own one-act play with which he intends to win the heart of the much-desired society wit, Célimène (Ludivine Sagnier). In order to deceive his wife, Elmire (Laura Morante), Jourdain introduces Molière to the household as M.Tartuffe, a priest and tutor for their young daughter. Let the fun and games begin.

Culturally and artistically, France dominated the 17th century and it is home to most of the images our imagination conjures up when we think of the era. It was a time of unparalleled magnificence and sophistication and it is appropriate that today the French are masters of cinematic recreations of it - the art, the architecture, the music and the manners are theirs for the asking. There are innumerable instance of such films (including one of my personal favourites Alain Corneau’s marvellous 1991 account of the life of Marin Marais, Tous Les Matins Du Monde). Not all are equally rewarding of course, often being memorable only generically as stories of sexual intrigue set in the sumptuously decorated chateaux of the aristocracy contrasted with the filthy poverty of the lower class and populated by heavily-powdered women with heaving bosoms and long-haired foppish men in silken hose and huge feathered hats.

Laurent Tirard’s Molière has all this but it is also distinguished by an often-amusing script and lively performances from a strong cast. Scripted by Tirard along with Grégoire Vigneron the film is in essence a romantic comedy loosely based on the life and work of the famous French playwright, Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, known by his stage name Molière, best known in English as the author of 'Tartuffe', a name which is synonymous in French with the word “hypocrite”. One of the delights of Tirard’s film is the way in which it re-imagines the events and characters of the play as real life source experiences but there is also much fun had with acting as both artistic and social deception.

Deception is very much the theme of these kinds of films but here it is delightfully explored through a duality which of course has a meta-level of significance for us the audience partaking of yet another kind of deception altogether. These aspects are beautifully woven into what is a finely-judged romantic comedy with a gently poignant touch.

If the film is both gorgeous-looking with superb art direction and production design, and intelligently structured and wittily written, it is also distinguished by its strong performances. Romain Duris may look too much the punk beneath his long unkempt hair but he gives a lively, thoroughly-engaging Chaplinesque performance as the wayward, struggling playwright. Laura Morante is both graceful and alluring as the neglected wife whose physical desires he arouses whilst Fabrice Luchini steals the show as M. Jourdain, the hopelessly smitten dupe of all and sundry.

My only significant disappointment with the film is that we do not get to see M. Jourdain’s little play. Perhaps Tirard could not get it to work but as so much of the film builds to its performance and it is redolent with farcical potential its omission seems misguided. Molière takes a while to warm up and at times feels a little drawn-out but it will be a rewarding meal for gourmets of such fare.

FYI: A more conventional biopic also titled Molière and directed by Ariane Mnouchkine won the Palme d'Or at Cannes in 1978




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