'Molière': A Fine Romance
In the tradition of "Shakespeare in Love," Laurent Tirard's "Molière" is a piece of lively speculative historical fiction that takes a snippet of real life -- in this case, the mysterious disappearance of the French playwright for several months in 1644 -- and concocts an extravagant and thoroughly irresistible story of intrigue, romance, comedy and artistic inspiration.
Romain Duris, late of "Dans Paris," brings the swagger and panache of a rock star to his portrayal of Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, who is not yet the famous Molière when he's thrown into debtor's prison at the beginning of the story. Rather he's a failed actor who winds up being bailed out by a nameless benefactor and is whisked away to the aristocrat's estate. There, Poquelin embarks on a series of feints and follies that will serve as inspiration for his later satirical plays, and he falls in love with the woman who will make him a true artist.
Tirard takes viewers on a sumptuous, wildly romantic ride through Versailles-era France, where wit and high style are the coin of the realm. In addition to Duris, who brings an earthy muscularity to the role, Tirard has enlisted a superb cast of players, including Laura Morante as Poquelin's muse (refreshingly, a woman of a certain age) and the incomparable Fabrice Luchini as his sponsor, a dilettante who finally reveals surprising depth.
-- Ann Hornaday
Molière PG-13, 120 minutes Contains sexual content. In French with subtitles. At Landmark's Bethesda Row, AMC Loews Shirlington and Cinema Arts Theatre.