There's a gap in the history of Molière, a small but mysterious hole where historians aren't quite sure what happened to the fabled author. That bit of mystery has inspired writer/director Laurent Tirard and co-writer Grégoire Vigneron to whip up a clever fantasy in which the playwright finds himself released from debtor's prison by a wealthy, if loony, conspirator who hopes Molière can become his acting coach; Molière, whose identity must remain hidden, claims to be a priest by the name of Tartuffe.
Think of it, perhaps, as "Shakespeare in Love" by way of "Cyrano de Bergerac" - as the young playwright leads his new employer on a quest for love and the arts, the screenplay soaks in its own sly references to Molière's best known works. The conceit here is that these missing adventures inspired Molière's creation of his plays "Tartuffe" and "The Bourgeois Gentleman," that they are true-life tales. The script quotes liberally from both, either in subtle allusion or in direct, lengthy reenactment. Luckily for non-Molière fans, the film, simply titled "Molière," intricate knowledge of these plays are not required to fully enjoy this lively historical comedy.
Romain Duris plays Molière with a bit of rock star attitude, and when we first meet the author, it's at the height of his success. He's upset to find himself forced to write yet another comedy - he has ambitions of grand drama, thinking he's wasted his time on a fluffier genre. We then flash back to 1645, where a younger, hungrier Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, who's only started going by the state name Molière, is brimming with energy and ambition. He's also deep in debt, and no amount of clowning around can rescue him from the two men who come to haul him away to jail.
He's bailed out by the bourgeois gentleman himself, Jourdain (Fabrice Luchini), who whisks him off to his enormous estate as a sort of top secret acting coach: Molière will review a short play Jourdain has written and will teach him how to act. Jourdain hopes the play will help him woo the lovely but distant widow Celimene (Ludivine Sagnier), but please, don't tell Jourdain's wife, Elmire (Laura Morante). This sort of romantic conniving amuses Molière, although it's not long before he's falling hard for Elmire, and vice versa, which naturally complicates everything.
Subplots abound, most notably the bit about Jourdain's daughter (Fanny Valette) being engaged to the boorish Thomas (Gilian Petrovsky) despite really loving Valère (Gonzague Requillart); Thomas, by the way, is the son of Dorante (Edouard Baer), a schemer who's convinced Jourdain he's helping him woo Celimene, even though he's really hoping to steal her for himself, the scoundrel.
It unfolds with the energy of a farce and the visual grace of a sweeping historical epic - Gilles Henry's widescreen cinematography is drop-dead gorgeous - and while it never loses its playful tone (one wordplay scene, taken from "The Bourgeois Gentleman," is a comedic marvel), it also never lets the comedy overwhelm what becomes a bittersweet romantic tone. Sure, it doesn't always work; the flashback structure is completely unnecessary and a few of the scenes drag. But Tirard manages everything with a light touch, and we leave the picture smiling (and, maybe, just a little misty).
Video & Audio
The anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1) transfer is absolutely stunning, doing justice to the lovely visuals of the film. Colors are warm, deep, and inviting. The French soundtrack gets the Dolby 5.1 treatment, and it sounds equally spectacular. Optional English and Spanish subtitles are provided.
Tirard's commentary track is delivered in English, which is a nice gift for American viewers. Despite the occasional gap in conversation, the director maintains a high energy throughout the track, offering thoughts on both the filmmaking process and Molière's own life.
"The Making of Molière" (26:56) is a wonderfully in-depth piece covering the entire range of production. Presented in non-anamorphic letterbox.
A large collection of previews rounds out the set; some of these previews also play as the disc loads.
A breezy historical romance with a strong knack for comedy, "Molière" is a wonderful tribute to the legendary playwright, and a smart, witty introduction to his work for those unaware of what he has to offer. Highly Recommended.