Alceste, the hero of ‘The Misanthrope’ (generally regarded as seventeenth-century French playwright Molière’s greatest achievement), is so determined not to tone down his opinions for the sake of being nice, that he ends up being exiled by the rest of society. Three and a half centuries later, and the same theme of high-handed integrity versus compromised accommodation is still relevant.
In this charming Gallic theatrical frolic, Gauthier (Lambert Wilson), a successful TV star looking for artistic cred, seeks out now-retired fellow actor Serge (Fabrice Luchini) in his island hideaway, with the idea of doing a new stage production of the Molière classic. Luchini has the talent, but he’s so egotistical he’d rather cut himself off from the business than ever work again. It’s only as they rehearse that the old juices start to flow. But who’s going to play the lead?
For Francophiles of a literary bent, just hearing these two silkily unfurling their lines will be frisson enough. But the expertly contrasted central performances also bring out the destructive power of the alpha male competitive urge in a way that needs no academic underpinning. Classy, satisfying fare, if you can go with the actorly flow.