Review: Cycling with Moliere

Film Title: Cycling With Moliere

Director: Philippe Le Guay

Starring: Fabrice Luchini, Lambert Wilson, Maya Sansa, Laurie Bordesoules

Genre: Drama

Running Time: 104 min

Fri, Jul 4, 2014, 00:00

   

HHHHHHHHHHMon Dieu! That title. It sounds like a pastiche French film that Lisa Simpson might slip into while her father was at Honk if You’re Horny. Philippe Le Guay’s drama turns out to be the charming, if undemanding, story of two older actors falling in and out of friendship while rehearsing a production of Molière’s Le Misanthrope on the picturesque Île de Ré.

Lambert Wilson plays the sleek, well-polished Gauthier Valence, a classical actor who has belatedly gained mainstream fame playing a brain surgeon on a cheesy television show. We begin with Gauthier oiling his way – all belted overcoat and sculptured hair – to the house of the scruffy, reclusive Serge Tanneur (Fabrice Luchini) on that island off the French west coast.

Unsurprisingly, when Gauthier suggests the notion of staging Le Misanthrope, his old pal assumes he will be playing Alceste, the title role. It’s not just that (this is hinted at rather than explicitly stated) Serge is the more distinguished, more serious-minded actor. There’s also the fact that, long dedicated to the solitary, morose life, he positively embodies the notion of misanthropy. In fact Gauthier has that role marked down for himself and wants Serge to take on Philinte, Alceste’s foil. After some squabbling they decide that – as Olivier and Gielgud did for certain productions in their youth – they will alternate the lead and supporting role on successive nights. An intense rehearsal procedure begins.

Things get a bit Jules and Jim as, when not falling from bicycles, the two old fools vie for the attentions of a young Italian woman. Certain philosophical ideas are teased out. Much is made of the sombre, often rain-drenched landscape.

Exploiting, but never overdoing, parallels with Molière’s play, the picture drifts towards an inevitable bust up and a somewhat forced denouement. The script is a slim thing, but there is enough here to allow two great talents to exercise all their toughest theatrical muscles.

For once, we would welcome an English-language remake. Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart in Kayaking with Marlowe sounds about right.