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A once great actor, Serge Tanneur (Fabrice Luchini), has retired from the limelight. Too much pressure meant that one day, he simply decided he would act no more. For the past three years, he has lived in solitude on the Île de Ré, spending his time cycling through the windswept landscape. Fellow actor Gauthier Valence (Lambert Wilson), whose career is flying high, is planning a production of Molière's play The Misanthrope and wants to offer Serge the role of Filinte. Gauthier is convinced he will accept, since Serge himself has become a misanthrope, withdrawn from society and raging against the world. It would be wonderful to see him return in that part. But Serge plays hard to get, first of all as he want to play the title role. Instead of committing, he suggests they rehearse together for the week. Things look to be going well, especially when a mysterious Italian divorcee (Maya Sansa) brings a romantic spark into his life. With the play's producer, Gauthier's agent and his lover ... Written by
A Gem: Tribute to Molière's Misanthrope, Great Acting Performances, Comedy Of Manners Morphing Into Psychological Drama.
A once great actor, Serge Tanneur (Fabrice Luchini), has retired from the limelight, in the process becoming a misanthrope not unlike Molière's famous character. For the past three years he has lived in solitude on the Île de Ré, spending his time cycling through the windswept landscape. He rejects society so much that he refuses to connect his septic tank to the main sewage pipe network. As a result, his house stinks. (Later, after the movie has been watched, this is revealed to have been a harbinger of the tragedy to come, but at this point of the movie it is comedic.) Fellow actor Gauthier Valence (Lambert Wilson), whose career is flying high, is planning a production of Molière's play Le Misanthrope and wants to offer Serge, first the second role, then, after Serge's insistence that he would only play the title role, the title role in rotation.
Instead of committing, Serge suggests they rehearse together for the week, and Gauthier changes his plans and withdraws from his appointments and obligations for the better part of the week. Almost secluded, the two rehearse the play rotating the title role among them. It is never clear whether Serge will accept, or whether he has really become a misanthrope who relishes at exposing other peoples' real or just made up weaknesses. The scenes where they rehearse together are magnificent ---high quality theater-in-a-movie---, the scenery is superb. The viewer is captivated, and begins to relax enjoying the star actors' theatrical performances. The film is replete with satire to the emptiness of modernity, for example when the young beautiful girl who is currently a rising porn actress (with her family's and boyfriend's approval) is revealed to have real Molière actress potential. For the greater part, it looks and feels like a cultivated bitter-sweet comedy of manners, not unlike Molière's original. But gradually then suddenly, the comedy of manners morphs into a full-blown psychological drama, as Serge is revealed to be less of Molière's charming character and more of a modern-day psychotic intent on destructing the conventions and indeed the basic human empathy that together hold the social fabric. Gauthier is also revealed to have faults, as do all of us (quote Molière), but, unlike Serge and like Molière's character, he gradually acknowledges them (if he had not already done from the beginning), and this makes him human and in the end likable. It helps that the actor's real person naturally emits a subtle melancholic charm.
Alceste à bicyclette pays tribute to France's greatest playwright. It pays tribute to the beauty of 17th century French language (the fact that at this writing there are no French subtitles available is a tribute to the inability of France's cultural bureaucracy to direct a trifle of funds where they might have the greatest effect). And it is a great movie in its own right. It may be acknowledged to have been a piece célèbre of a new cinematic genre, namely a comedy of manners gradually morphing into a psychological drama. Superb scenario. Magnificent performances by Fabrice Luchini and Lambert Wilson: this is a movie based not on special effects but on theatrical acting (content and notion being conveyed by diction) and cinematic acting (content and notion being conveyed by subtle facial expressions). One gets a feeling why the Comédie Française has maintained such a hold on European high culture for so long a time. Blessed be France's cinematic industry for churning out gems like that year after year.
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