“Moliére” portrays great French playwright

Emily Koenig

Last weekend, the Tournés Festival showed the second film in its series, Laurent Tirard’s “Moliére” (2007).
A romantic comedy, the film is very loosely based on the life of the great French playwright Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, known commonly as Moliére (Romain Duris).
In the film, a wealthy married man, Monsieur Jourdain (Fabrice Luchini), rescues Moliére from debtor’s prison and subsequently hires him to help Jourdain gain the affections of Céliméne (Ludivine Sagnier), a popular widow with a vicious wit.
To hide his purpose from Jourdain’s wife (Laura Morante), Moliére poses as a priest, calling himself Tartuffe. Complications ensue as Moliére and Jourdain’s wife fall in love, inspiring Moliére to achieve his potential as a playwright.
Not surprisingly, the humor in “Moliére” is much like the humor of Moliére’s plays, witty but slapstick. In fact, the dialogue in many scenes in the film is more or less directly lifted from his plays – primarily from “Tartuffe,” “Le Misanthrope” and “Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme.”
That is, somehow, both the film’s greatest success and its greatest failure. Moliére was a genius that brought satire into farce in ways that were potentially hilarious if portrayed correctly. The film portrays it wonderfully and so manages to be hilarious; however, the film contains only a small amount of original humor.
“Moliére” begs to be compared with “Shakespeare in Love,” as both tell the story of frustrated playwrights inspired to genius by love affairs. Both do a good job, but “Shakespeare in Love” displays more originality.
Despite a slight lack of originality in writing, the cinematography and acting in “Moliére” are excellent. It is one of those beautifully photographed period films in which the color, setting, props and costumes are so rich and lush that it almost feels like eating chocolate.
Creative bits of editing, such as unexpected moments of slow motion, contribute significantly to the comedy in the film. But perhaps the greatest triumph lies in the subtlety of the acting. The actors that play ridiculous characters, particularly Fabrice Luchini as Jourdain, manage to make them somehow completely believable and realistic, which makes their ridiculous actions all the more hilarious.
As for Moliére himself, Romain Duris plays him deftly with a degree of understatement that makes the character endearing and complex, managing to portray him as comical while simultaneously providing the character with serious emotional realism.
“Moliére” is essentially a very comfortable movie. If you are in the mood for substance in a film, this may not give you your fix – “Moliére” fails to provoke any particularly deep thoughts or emotions.
That said, the film certainly succeeds as a romance and particularly as a comedy. I would personally recommend “Moliére” to anyone who feels in the mood for light, witty fare that is essentially a montage of Moliére’s greatest hits with a love story worked in.
Interestingly, probably the deepest concept in the entire film is that comedy can sometimes have as much meaning and worth as drama; the film proves this concept true.