“Speak to me in the language of Moliere.”
Moliere, from director Laurent Tirard is a tasty romp through 17th century France. The film’s main premise is to present the backdrop story to Moliere’s success. There are some gaps in Moliere’s history, and during a thirteen-year period, he toured in the provinces with his troupe of actors. Here, he honed his satirical skills, and gained immense popularity before establishing himself at La Salle du Petit-Bourbon in Paris. The film Moliere attempts to explain some of the murkier details about Moliere’s past by presenting a slice of his life that mirrors the elegant style and wit of his wonderful plays.
Moliere (Romain Duris) is a talented but penniless actor who finds himself thrown in jail when he cannot pay his debts. But a rich gentleman, Monsieur Jourdain (Fabrice Luchini) pays for Moliere’s release. Jourdain, however, wants something in return, and he arranges for Moliere to arrive at his splendid country mansion. Jourdain, prosperous, and eager to improve himself, is in the habit of employing experts to teach him various skills. And he employs Moliere to teach him acting skills. It seems that Jourdain, although married to the deliciously lovely, Elmire (Laura Morante) is enamored with a shallow young widow, Celimene (Ludivine Sagnier). Jourdain intends to present himself at one of Celimene’s celebrated salons and impress her with a rendition of something written in her honor.
Now since Jourdain can’t tell his wife that Moliere is there to help him seduce another woman, Jourdain dresses Moliere up like a priest and tells Elmire that Moliere (now named Tartuffe) is in their home as a spiritual advisor. And here on Jourdain’s country estate, as events unfold, ‘real’ life assumes aspects of a Moliere play complete with a cuckolded husband, star-crossed lovers, and a fake kidnapping. Fans of Moliere will recognize names and plot elements of his plays, and of course, the implied idea is that Moliere’s greatest inspiration came from this episode in his early life.
Moliere, while not quite as good as the plays, is highly entertaining. The film also explores the idea of Moliere’s frustrated desire to write great tragedies, and it’s through his relationship with Elmire, that he finally realises the importance of comedy. With flawless timing, and impeccable acting, this is a witty, clever, and good-natured costume drama.