A review of “Moliere” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: ***

Rating: PG-13 for sexual overtones and undertones. In French with English subtitles

Run Time: 2 hours

 

 

Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, aka Molière, was a scabrous wit and author of the 17th century’s most renowned comic literature. Writer/director Laurent Tirard crafts a charming romp trained on the infamous satirist in his more formative years.

At his humble beginnings Molière (Romain Duris) was an actor and a failed one at that. His less-than-memorable Illustrious Theatre Troupe teetered on the brink of bankruptcy until finally Molière was jailed by his creditors.

Historians have failed to unearth traces of Molière between jail terms and his chronicled reappearance several months later, when the troupe toured the French provinces and achieved a certain measure of success. What transpired in those missing months? It’s anyone’s guess and this is Tirard’s.

Summarily released from prison by wealthy bourgeois M. Jourdain (Fabrice Luchini) the young actor is instructed to tutor Jourdain in the craft of the stage so he can impress a lovely marquise who gathers a glittering salon and who is most definitely not his wife.

Forced to keep Jourdain’s scandalous infatuation a secret the rakish Molière proceeds to fall for the man’s vivacious wife Elmire (Laura Morante). Which plays into all manner of social snafus as Jourdain has passed Molière off as Monsieur Tartuffe the lowly pauper priest

It’s a comedy of errors, a trompe l’oeil of social skill as Molière seeks to consummate his perfect love while living a messy lie.

Quite a stretch to suggest that this exaggerated passion was the incentive to turn an ordinary scribe into one of literature’s most glittering dramatists. But suggest Tirard does, with engaging references and characters that will ultimately appear in Molière’s most notorious works.

Set-pieces are strung together with slapdash flair, working their magic when they’re mired in farce. Slapstick buoys the bouncy narrative that repeatedly, and rather awkwardly, veers into thinking-man’s terrain.  A blithe but satisfying French confection.