This seems to be the season for speculative biographies of canonical writers. Jane Austen just got a ho-hum "what if? called Becoming Jane and now a certain French playwright gets the same treatment in the seriously annoying Molière.
The film finds the pre-fame Molière (Romain Duris) in debtors prison for his theatrical companys financial non-starting; luckily, a rich but doltish merchant named Jourdain (Fabrice Luchini) hires him to help him act out a play that will win over the lovely Celemene (Ludivine Sagnier). Trouble is, Jourdain is married to the long-suffering Elmire (Laura Morante), as well as currently being swindled by Dorante (Edouard Baer), who has designs on marring off his son to Jourdains daughter. Thus, Molière must stop the marriage and reveal Dorantes double-dealing while fighting off his attraction to sensitive, substantial Elmire.
Part of the problem is Duris, a very off-putting performer whos not used to good effect, but I doubt that Brando himself could save this extremely literal-minded production. Its not enough to have a comic episode set in a little-known part of the authors life it has to be the inspiration for his switch from tragedy to comedy and the basis for his masterpiece Tartuffe.
The film would need a sharp wit to make it funny and a poets sensibility to give it dramatic heft but director Laurent Tirard is not the sharpest knife in the drawer and plays it about as broadly as he can. And while those who swoon over costume pictures will find this very well designed and richly coloured, the visuals do not mask the very conventional intelligences at work. I speculate that the participants could have done better. (Christal)