For the most part, I’ve managed to curb my compulsion to indiscriminately buy every French film I find on the second-hand shelf, but how could I resist a costume rom-com, co-starring Ludivine Sagnier? Molière (2007) stars Romain Duris in a fictional account of the eponymous playwright’s early life, circa 1645. To quote Wikipedia: “Following an unsuccessful run as a tragic actor, Molière is released from debtor’s prison by Monsieur Jourdain, a wealthy commoner with social pretensions, who agrees to pay the young actor’s debts if Molière teaches him to act. Jourdain, already a married man with two daughters, hopes to use this talent to ingratiate himself with Célimène (Sagnier), a recently widowed beauty, by performing a short play he has written for the occasion.”
I have to be honest, and admit that I’d never actually heard of the man before, and I can only assume that the film is far more meaningful and amusing for those audience members who can catch the references to his work which are woven into the fictional story… as a pull-quote on the cover points out, this was also the case with Shakespeare in Love… but even for an uncultured ignoramus like myself, there’s still a great deal to enjoy. I’m not normally a big fan of farce, but here it’s played with great energy and charm, and off-set by an undercurrent of real, raw human emotion, as well as a foreshadowing of tragedy suggested by the opening scenes. And Sagnier certainly is very beautiful, all gussied up in period gowns… but the real draw is Jourdain’s neglected wife, Elmire, played by the Italian actress Laura Morante. All credit to Molière for recognising and respecting her wisdom and wit… even when he can’t acknowledge his own strengths and weaknesses as an artist.
My favourite scene between them has to be the one where Molière is trying to impress Elmire with his serious, solemn Acting, and she hurts his pride by suggesting that he’d be more successful as a Clown. He suggests, rather huffily, that she simply doesn’t have the necessary “sensitivity” to appreciate good Theatre.
“Spare me your superior airs,” Elmire replies. “I know what touches me and what bores me. Your pranks are more touching than any tragedy,”
“Comedy,” he sniffily insists, “relies on mechanical effects. Tragedy explores the infinite complexity of the human soul.”
“Then”, she counters, “play comedies that explore them.”
“They do not exist.”
“Then invent them!” She exclaims, with a daring glint in her eye, and a warm, supportive smile.