DIR/WRI: Philippe Le Guay • PRO: • DOP: Jean-Claude Larrieu ED: Monica Coleman • DES: Françoise Dupertuis • MUS: Jorge Arriagada • CAST: Fabrice Luchini, Lambert Wilson, Maya Sansa
Known for his charming dramedies, French writer-director Philippe le Guay presents his latest offering Cycling with Molière (Alceste à Bicyclette), a clever, postmodern reworking of Molière’s classic The Misanthrope. Transposing the play’s theme to the modern-day setting of île-de-Ré off the coast of France, the film follows successful actor Gauthier Valence (Lambert Wilson), as he travels to the island in order to convince fellow actor and long-term friend Serge Tanneur (Fabrice Luchini) to act in his production of Molière’s renowned comedy of manners. However, Tanneur, who has banished himself to a dilapidated family home on the island following a period of depression, insists that he has retired from acting due to his animosity towards those in the industry. Nevertheless, both his love of Molière and his desire to play the protagonist Alceste encourages him to consider starring in the play. What follows is an amusing, week-long long series of rehearsals as both actors alternate playing the roles of Alceste and Philinte, while at the same time battling with their egos as their mutual desire to star as Alceste takes over.
The driving force of the film is indeed the heated interactions between Tanneur and and Valence during the rehearsal sessions, which never fail to amuse. More importantly, it is through the relationship between these characters that le Guay skilfully re-fashions The Misanthrope. Tanneur, a bitter cynic who avoids human society, is clearly a modern-day Alceste, as his powerful rehearsals of Alceste’s infamous lines reveal his similarities with the character’s critical attitude towards 17th century social habits and hypocrisy. On the other hand, Valence echoes Philinte’s role of the conformist, as he agrees to alternate the roles of Alceste and Philinte in order to keep the peace. The film’s inclusion of a love interest in the form of Italian divorcee Francesca (Maya Sansa) is also a clever plot device, as it reinforces the film’s pessimistically comic aspect that links it to The Misanthrope. Therefore, le Guay has successfully created a comedy of manners about a comedy of manners, so to speak.
Courteous of cinematographer Jean-Claude Larrieu, the film’s picturesque depiction of the surrounding île-de-Ré area adds a sense of warmth to the film, serving as an antidote to the antagonistic relationship between Tanneur and Valence. This scenic portrayal of the island provides an interesting contrast to the rehearsal scenes, in which the focus is just on Serge and Tanneur. This is useful in removing any surrounding distractions in order to emphasise the centrality of the two characters to the film’s re-working of The Misanthrope. However, out of the two actors, Luchini particularly shines in his role as Tanneur, effectively bringing the comic ‘misanthropy’ of the character to life.
Nevertheless, the plot of the film is not without its share of hitches. The attempts at slapstick comedy serve no purpose to the story, while a sub-plot involving a local porn star (Laure Bordesoules) is suddenly written out before it gets the chance to take off. Likewise, a scenario involving Valence and a persistent taxi-driving fan never reaches a sufficient conclusion. Despite these unnecessary distractions however, the relationship between Tanneur and Valence is enough to hold the audience’s attention until the end.
15A (See IFCO for details)
Cycling with Molière is released on 4th July 2014