Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Movie Review: Moliere (2007)

Molière was an actor / playwright in 17th century France and is considered to be one of the great masters of comedy.  In this movie he is presented with an actor with a great gift for comedy, but he yearns to act and write tragedies - something he is considered to be very bad at.  (I have no idea how much historical accuracy there is in this movie, but I suspect that a very large degree of artistic licence has been used!)  The movie follows his abortive efforts to change the public perception of what he's good at, through imprisonment and rescue from an unlikely source, through to his life experiences leading him to successfully fuse tragedy and comedy into tragicomedy.

Jean-Baptiste Poquelin (Molière's real name) is played here by Romain Duris, who gives a phenomenal performance.  He's a troubled soul' a frustrated artist and, eventually, an even more frustrated lover.  The man who bails him out of prison is Mr Jourdain (Fabrice Luchini), a respectable and well-off gentleman, but unbelievably pompous, thought by his associates to be ridiculous, and negligent of his beautiful and intelligent wife (Elmire, played by Laura Morante).  It isn't long before Molière  and Elmire fall in love, and for a very long time Mr Jourdain manages to remain completely oblivious to this fact.

Complicating matters is that Molière has to pretend to be a priest brought in by Mr Jourain to teach their daughter - Molière knows almost nothing of papal matters, whilst Mrs Jourain is against the idea of religious tutelage of her daughter from the outset.  Jourdain has designs on the beautiful but haughty and vicious Célimène (Ludivine Sagnier), and wants  Molière ‘s help in winning her affections; he also has a "friendship" which turns out to be extremely one-sided; he is against his daughter (Henrietta, played by Fanny Valette)'s love for a local boy, something Elmire feels positively about. 

Director Laurent Tirard finely balances tragedy and comedy throughout, leading to some very emotional scenes as well as many humorous ones (including one scene that has Molière  teaching Jourdain how to act - as a horse!).  The relationships between the different characters are complex and believable, the events that finally lead up to Molière writing the play he is to perform to a royal audience (he wants to perform a tragedy, but a comedy is expected and indeed a royal command) at the end of the film is satisfying and the scene is poignant without being overly sentimental.

The acting is pretty much faultless throughout - while Duris is enigmatic and passionate, Luchini's guileless and confused character almost steals the show from him.  Morante has arguably a less interesting character, but she also gives a memorable performance.  The music score by Frédéric Talgorn is excellent and in fact pretty everything about the film's production is very good.  The only real failing for the film (for some) is that there's no English version - however I'm finding more and more that avoiding films with subtitles merely means that you miss out on some great films.  An English dub of this could easily be terrible, so unless you really don't like subtitled movies, I wouldn't let that put you off at all - this is really a great movie.

This is a movie that is often compared with Shakespeare in Love (some call it "a French Shakespeare in Love").  There are definite similarities, but I'd say (bearing in mind that it's a long time since I've seen the other movie) that Molière has more complex characters and is thus more interesting.  I had no pre-conceived notions about the film at all since we picked it up having never heard of it, merely because it looked interesting - which just goes to show that sometimes that methodology works!  (We've seen some real stinkers as a result of films we'd never heard of that looked interesting...!)

Perhaps not my favourite French language film - that would still have to be Manon de Sources.  However, Molière is a great film.

A short snippet of dialogue that sums up the movie's whole plot:

Elmire: Unhappiness has comic aspects one should never underestimate 
Molière: How could I joke about that which makes me weep? This type of comedy does not exist. 
Elmire: Well, then... invent it. 

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