Laurent Tirard’s sprightly, fun and clever widescreen costumer plays like a Gallic ‘Shakespeare in Love’. But in ‘Molière’ the bard (Romain Duris) is more of a dupe and a victim, albeit a game and resourceful one, looking back from the 1650s at his days as a debt-ridden actor-manager and provincial comedian in the 1640s. The games that Tirard and co-writer Grégoire Vigneron play with the dramatist’s theatrical conceits differ, too, from Tom Stoppard’s post-modernism, offering an equally light and witty but more populist satire on period manners, courtly flummery, romantic entanglement, mimicry, identity and self-delusion.
It’s a film of performances, and of them Fabrice Luchini is right on the money as the vain, wealthy Jourdain, whose opulent househould Molière enters disguised as a priest to assist with the dangerously myopic man’s acting ambitions. Ludivine Sagnier is haughty and remote as the oblivious, verbose object of Jourdain’s desire; Edouard Baer gives great comic value as the covetous, scheming aristocrat Dorante; and, best of all, Laura Morante is seductive and affecting as Jourdain’s neglected wife, to whom Molière’s eye is turned.
All in all, it’s a breezy, jestful and enjoyable divertissement, in which Duris is given free rein to showcase his considerable versatility, switching from parodied artistic torment to flourishing declamations or theatrical buffoonery to delicate romantic ardour in the turn of a bon mot. The whole is lifted by Frédéric Talgorn’s bright, classically inflected score and the sumptuous photography of Gilles Henri.