Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Bicycling with Moliѐre

Gauthier (Lambert Wilson), the distinguished and dashing middle-aged star of a hit French medical series, day-trips to the picturesque île de Ré, where he surprises his old acting buddy Serge (Fabrice Luchini) with a proposition.

He's directing his first play, Moliѐre's "The Misanthrope," and asks Serge to co-star with him. Serge demurs for two reasons: he hasn't trod the boards in several years (we first see him tossing new scripts he's received into a fire); more important, he clearly suspects Gauthier has bitten off more than he can chew. He agrees only to rehearse for a few weeks, using a coin toss each day to determine who will portray the titular Alceste and who his foil Philinte. 

So is the stage set for Philippe Le Guay's "Bicycling with Moliѐre," a witty and sophisticated adult entertainment and, above all, a film for actors. We spend extended time with Serge and Gauthier as they perform the work of acting: experimenting with and analyzing - often disputatiously - line readings, inflection, placement, interaction, motivation. In the process, we enjoy quality time with the text itself, and, as Luchini is himself an expert on Moliѐre, he is uniquely able to convey Serge's reverence for the author's alexandrines. At its best, the film provides pleasure to thespians and the literati alike.

Of course, being a human of the French persuasion, Le Guay cannot resist throwing in bits of puerile physical comedy, many of them involving the various islanders they encounter, including a fistfight with a cabbie, an unfortunate incident involving a Jacuzzi with a mind of its own, and more than one fully clothed tumble off a bicycle and into a lake. These scenes cheapen the film and are entirely unnecessary, as Luchini in particular mines genuine laughter from Serge's own misanthropy and wariness of Gauthier's motives. Still, it's a marginal thumbs-up for "Bicycling with Moliѐre."

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