Fictional biopic takes historical license in positing the inspiration for Moliere


on July 27, 2007 by Annlee Ellingson
In 1644, 22-year-old Parisian performer Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, aka Moliere, had not yet written the theatrical satires for which he gained worldwide renown. Rather, he was a failed actor with a troupe that was bankrupt; he was pursued by creditors and eventually jailed. Upon his release, he disappeared, resurfacing months later to take his company on tour through the provinces for 13 years before his triumphant return to the City of Lights in 1658. But where he went and what he did during those mysterious few months remain a mystery to this day.

Writer/director Laurent Tirard and co-scribe Gregoire Vigneron speculate that this blank period of time was quite fertile for the writer, providing the fodder for the plays that would make his career: Sprung from prison by wealthy bourgeois Monsieur Jourdain (a delightful and finally poignant Fabrice Luchini), Moliere (a schizophrenic but ultimately charming Romain Duris) discovers that he must repay his benefactor by preparing him to perform a one-man show for Celimene (the lovely Ludivine Sagnier), the aristocratic host of a popular salon. To explain Moliere's presence in his home, Jordain tells his wife that he's a priest named, ahem, Tartuffe, hired for religious instruction—an unfortunate cover story for Moliere, as he falls in love with the lady of the house, Elmire (Laura Morante). This romantic farce, along with a subplot involving the arranged marriage between Jourdain's daughter and the son of his penniless aristocratic friend, serves as inspiration for his greatest works, most obviously Tartuffe .

Like its main character, who yearns to perform tragedy but excels at comedy, Moliere is best when it's funny, tapping all facets of the form, from situation comedy to sophisticated banter to the playwright's trademark satire—there's even a little bit of judiciously applied slapstick. But unfortunately the film begins on a serious note, requiring an adjustment on the part of the audience toward its more prevalent comic tone. Once that transition is made, however, with the help of a lighthearted orchestral score, the experience of Moliere is an enjoyable one—more so with some familiarity with his body of work.
Distributor: Sony Classics
Cast: Romain Duris, Fabrice Luchini, Laura Morante, Edouard Baer, Ludivine Sagnier and Fanny Valette
Director: Laurent Tirard
Screenwriters: Laurent Tirard and Gregoire Vigneron
Producers: Olivier Delbosc and Marc Missonnier
Genre: Romantic comedy; French-language, subtitled
Rating: PG-13 for some sexual content
Running time: 119 min.
Release date: July 27, 2007 NY/LA
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