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Jonathan Cenzual Burley
Fede Sánchez Garcia,
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 Gauthier is convinced he will accept, since Serge himself has become a misanthrope, withdrawn from society and raging against the world.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
Gauthier Valence is a successful actor. He plays in a prime time soap opera which earns him enough glory to be recognized in the streets and markets and enough money to allow him to put on stage the most ambitious production any French actor dreams about Moliere's Le Misanthtrope. Of course he sees himself in the lead role of Alceste, but for the second role of the play, Philinte, he wants to get the participation of his friend, Serge Tanneur, who retired a few years before in a remote corner of France, on the shores of the Atlantic. When traveling to obtain his friend's (and maybe rival) participation in the production he will find not only that Serge believes that he is the one fit for the lead role, but also that in order to enroll him he will need to engage in a game of rehearsals, first for one day, then for the rest of the week. Did Serge really give up acting, or is he playing a game of power with his old friend and rival, who apparently has so different conceptions about life and acting? Who is the playwright, who is the director, who is the actor in this play?
The series of rehearsals that the two actors play occupy much and the best part of the film. I am just sorry that I did not know how important a role the text of Moliere plays in this film, I would have read it before, as the feelings of the two characters are often expressed by the two actors using the replicas of the play and through the way they act alternatively the roles of Alceste and Philinte. It is amazing how fascinating are the scenes where we see the two men working together and confronting each other. Their role swapping is at the same time a fight for control and a way of marking the differences in their approaches towards acting and towards life, it defines the relation with the other characters (yes, there are several women in the story and one of them plays a relatively small but key role cherchez la femme), and the complex relations of respect, rivalry and friendship between the two of them.
'Alceste a bicyclette' (English title Cycling with Moliere) directed by Philippe Le Guay is the second excellent French film that I see in the time of a few weeks (the other one was the Allen-esque 'Dans la maison'), and the lead actor (as Serge Taneur) is again Fabrice Luchini who is also a co-author of the script. His partner is Lambert Wilson whose figure is maybe recognizable from a number of Hollywood productions, but who really gets here a great role in the tradition of the French theater and cinema. There is some good camera work by Jean-Claude Larrieu using the fabulous beaches at the Atlantic and the endless roads with the heroes riding bicycles, but most of the action takes place between the walls of the decrepit and overpriced house where the two actors rehearse Moliere. It may be the dream of any French actor to play Moliere or a play turning around Moliere's texts. It is the dream of any lover of French cinema and theater to see such a film. But better come prepared. Read Le Misanthrope first!
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