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cinema: Masterclass in comedy.

MOLIERE

(12A, 120 mins) Comedy/Romance. Romain Duris, Fabrice Luchini, Laura Morante, Edouard Baer, Ludivine Sagnier, Fanny Valette, Melanie Dos Santos, Gonzague Montuel, Gilian Petrovsky. Director: Laurent Tirard.

*****

POSSESSING the same irresistible blend of comedy and romance as Shakespeare In Love, Moliere is an exuberant and delectable romp concocting an imaginary collision between the 17th Century French playwright and his work. Art imitates life imitates art as an encounter with a wealthy benefactor reinvigorates Moliere's imagination, and ultimately guides his quill to create such comedic masterpieces as Tartuffe and The Misanthrope.

Writer-director Laurent Tirard and co-writer Gregoire Vigneron strike a jaunty tone from the outset, using the playwright's real-life disappearance from 1644 Paris as the basis for their irresistible confection.

"After 13 years in the provinces, performing farces, Moliere and his troupe return to Paris," declares the opening title card.

Jean-Baptiste Poquelin aka Moliere (Duris) and his actors arrive in the capital in high spirits, having seduced the common people with their delicious farces. The jubilation is short-lived when Moliere is summoned to the bedchamber of a dying woman, a woman from his past.

The film rewinds to less happy times, with Moliere's troupe teetering on the brink of bankruptcy. Creditors are baying for his blood and he is thrown in prison, then bailed out by the mysterious and wealthy Monsieur Jourdain (Luchini), who proposes that Moliere help him write and perform a one-act play to dazzle the object of his affections, society belle Celimene (Sagnier).

Moliere agrees to pose as Monsieur Tartuffe, the deeply religious private tutor of Jourdain's youngest daughter Louison (Dos Santos), while tutoring Jourdain in the art of acting. Matters are complicated when Moliere falls in love with Jourdain's wife, Elmire (Morante).

Meanwhile Jourdain discovers his oldest daughter Henriette (Valette) in a clinch with her sweetheart, Valere (Montuel).

"Are you a gentleman? A man with a title?" barks Jourdain. "No," replies Valere sadly.

"Then you are not for her," decrees the master of the house, resolving to marry off his daughter instead to the son of bounder Dorante (Baer).

Moliere is truly a delight, anchored by a sensational performance from Duris as the shaggy-haired charlatan who is bemused by his entrance to the Jourdain household - "I find myself a puppet in a strange adventure" - only to fall madly in love with a woman he can't have. Chemistry with Morante steams up the screen and there are some delightful comic interludes as Moliere and Elmire plot behind Jourdain's back, always tantalisingly close to being discovered by the cuckolded husband.

Luchini delivers a masterclass in split second comic timing and Baer is terrific as the greedy, materialistic cad who pretends to woo Celimene on Jourdain's behalf, but wants her for himself, informing his son: "In this house, one does not earn money, one marries it!"

The plot twists and turns to a heartbreaking conclusion when Moliere learns first-hand that "unhappiness has comic aspects one should never underestimate".

NO SWEARING; SEX; NO VIOLENCE

CAPTION(S):

CHEMISTRY - Laura Morante as Elmire
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)
Date:Jul 13, 2007
Words:501
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