Appellate Judge James A. Stewart just finished watching another period film. Now when are they going to start making movies about commas and semi-colons, already?
"Your pranks are more touching than any tragedy."
Molière in love? What if Molière's plays were based on events in the writer's life? Didn't Tom Stoppard come up with something like that a few years back, only using that Shakespeare fellow as a character?
Written in the "language of Molière," as the playwright pompously puts it at one point in the movie, this 2007 French comedy with dramatic turns takes on the playwright's farcical style—with false identity, adultery, hypocrisy, and a husband in hiding to set a trap. Writer/director Laurent Tirard said in his commentary that he tried to keep the character of Molière close to historical reality, but found the rest of his inspiration in Molière's plays; it's Tirard's answer to a literary question: What happened during a gap in the accounts of Molière's life?
Facts of the Case
The wealthy Jourdain offers to spring Molière from debtor's prison—if the actor will help him court a lovely widow with a playlet. Molière is told that he must keep the scheme from the household, so he poses as a holy man and religious tutor named Mr. Tartuffe.
Elmire, the wife, is suspicious of Molière from the start. Still, she kind of likes this imposter—and he likes her. Soon, their friendship turns into romance. Meanwhile, Dorante, a friend of Jourdain's, wants to set up a marriage between his son and Jourdain's daughter—against the daughter's wishes. For good measure, throw in a framing story about Molière's premiere of Tartuffe.
There's some side-splitting stuff—such as the scene in which Molière and Jourdain quibble over the wording of a letter or the bit where Dorante indignantly denies any mercantile leanings in his family—but farce is often kept at a distance here. In one scene—in which the frenetic fun is seen from afar through a window—that's even literal.
Molière focuses on its characters and draws its strength from its four central performances. Romain Duris (CQ) makes a likeable Jean-Baptiste Poquelin (otherwise known as Molière); we always know how he feels, but his light touch hides his feelings from the people around him—or at least the foolish Jourdain. Molière and Elmire (Laura Morante, Private Fears in Public Places) have a chemistry that grounds the absurd situation; the smiles with which they share a growing secret under Jourdain's nose at the dinner table tell the story delightfully. Edouard Baer (Asterix and Obelix: Mission Cleopatra) gets laughs as the vain, money-grubbing Dorante, and Fabrice Luchini (The Aviator's Wife) gets a few sympathetic moments even as he plays the fool as Jourdain. In a smaller role, Ludivine Sagnier (Paris je T'aime) as the shallow, tart-tongued widow holds court with a smiling wickedness.
Molière looks beautiful, almost like a painting come to life in places, and this transfer does it justice. The musical score, punctuating the action nicely with a light jaunty tone, also fares well.
In writer/director Laurent Tirard's commentary, he explains that he means "to modernize the whole notion of period films"; I'll add that his modern, faster pacing—and a few intentional anachronisms—never draw attention. The commentary also includes filming details, tells which Molière plays inspired which scenes, and points out a couple of jokes that you might have missed (one depends in part on a double meaning for the French word for "kiss"). All in all, it's an informative, well-done track.
I wasn't as impressed with "Behind the Scenes of Molière." The 27-minute making-of feature, in French with subtitles, is mostly standard, although you do get to see the actors looking and sounding more contemporary—sort of like a French version of the Psych cast in the end credits footage.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The DVD cover blurb even includes the words "hilarity ensues." Aaarrgggh! Bad blurb writing ensues!
For the frenetic feel of a Molière farce, you'll have to go to an actual theater to see one live on stage. Still, you'll find yourself smiling a lot—and rooting for Molière to sort everything out. Molière is a film rich in detail that holds up well to a second viewing.
Not guilty. A modern period film might be a contradiction in terms, but it's still enjoyable.
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Scales of Justice
• Commentary by Writer/Director Laurent Tirard
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