Perhaps because filmmaking is such a tedious task, only intermittently cinematic itself, filmmakers often turn to the theatre as their subject to explore, as Mike Leigh put it in conceiving Topsy-Turvy, “what we do, what we all go through.” Philippe Le Guay’s latest film, about two disrespected actors rehearsing a production of Moliere’s Le Misanthrope, makes a similar correlation, but takes it a step further. He nearly equates the cinema and theatre when one character, an actor, apologizing for the quality of his work on TV, alternately says “it’s not cinema” and “it’s not Shakespeare.”
It’s a minor point, but indicates a certain level of self-reflexivity in a film that dwells so much on how egotism and personal grudges blind the passionate pursuit of something…important? Gauthier Valence (Lambert Wilson) travels to Île de Ré hoping to convince Serge Tanneur (Fabrice Luchini), an idealist to the point of obstinacy, to come back to the stage so he can produce Moliere’s landmark play. Gauthier has reached a sort of stasis himself, known everyone as Dr. Morange, his character on a popular, House-esque medical drama, and is hoping to prove himself as a viable dramatic talent. Serge is in a somewhat more precarious position, having been disappointed too often by the behavior of many in the entertainment business, swearing it off entirely, and now living in isolation in his late uncle’s house.
But this also gives him certain power over Gauthier, who does not need Serge in the practical sense, but seems to need his integrity, his passion for the text. The scenes of them rehearsing become a fascinating duel, a push and pull of egos that both alternately makes their work together better and damages it quite badly, and Le Guay expertly picks the passage from Moliere’s text that will best reflect the film’s drama. Le Guay is sometimes too eager to rush past their more positive, productive periods, covering in montage what would be more challenging to investigate with actual dialogue, but nevertheless, the film emerges quite an engaging little drama.
Cycling with Moliere plays again at the Portland International Film Festival on Thursday, February 13th at 8:30 PM at the Fox Tower.