Director: Philippe Le Guay
Cast: Fabrice Luchini, Lambert Wilson
Watch Cycling with Moliere online in the UK: Curzon Home Cinema / Eircom / Virgin Movies / EE / TalkTalk / TalkTalk TV / Google Play / iTunes / Amazon Instant Video
Has there ever been a more middle-class title for a film than Cycling with Moliere? If not, it certainly fits the bill.
The movie sees two top French actors play two top French actors who reunite to rehearse Moliere. While cycling. And looking for a new holiday home.
Fabrice Luchini plays Serge Tanneur, a reclusive, semi-successful actor who has retired to hide away in the Île de Ré after becoming sick of the whole industry. So when his old friend, Gauthier Valence (Wilson) – now famous and working in TV – turns up inviting him to star in The Misanthrope, it’s not hard to picture him as the play’s resentful outsider, Alceste. The part Gauthier’s offering? Alceste’s friend, Philinte.
“You turn up after all these years and offer me Philinte?” Serge splutters. It’s a drama of egos as much as friendship and the two performers are perfect. They interrupt each other every other line, correcting intonation and offering pointers, before hamming it up for their own speeches. They’re rude, self-centred, manipulative and petty. In other words, they’re actors.
The story sees life and art intertwine in all the usual places, from well-placed bust-ups to sweet reconciliations – and even a romantic subplot involving a neighbouring woman. But for all its leisurely paced predictability, this is a performance piece rather than a literary masterpiece; it’s telling that Luchini and director Philippe Le Guay came up with the script together.
And who can blame them? Any chance to see Fabrice Luchini pedal his wares on screen is one that should be grasped by both handlebars. Last seen in Francois Ozon’s In the House, he’s proven himself over and over to be one of the best French talents around. The chance to see him do Moliere, no less, is even more special – he’s so good, in fact, that he’s done it once before in the Shakespeare in Love-style romp, Moliere.
This lacks the irresistble wit and depth of that screenplay, but Le Guay gives his cast more than enough of a chance to make up for it. Lambert Wilson is wonderfully arrogant as Serge’s snobby friend, right down the swagger of his fictional surgeon, Doctor Morange, who makes women swoon on television screens every Tuesday night.
As they toss a coin to decide who plays whom, the pair alternate smoothly between multiple facets of their characters, each one in tune with the partners on the page – bringing to life both the text and the thesps. To call it an essay on the nature of performance itself would be a little generous. To call it a treat, though, would be no lie. Comfortable enough to coast along on its charm, Cycling with Moliere may not be as lofty as its title implies. Cycling with Luchini and Lambert, though, is a blissful, middle-class afternoon out.