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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 Gauthier is convinced he will accept, since Serge himself has become a misanthrope, withdrawn from society and raging against the world.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
The French film "Alceste à bicyclette" was shown in the U.S. with the title "Bicycling with Molière" (2013). It was directed by Philippe Le Guay, and co-written ("from an original idea") by Le Guay and one of the stars, Fabrice Luchini.
I'm sure the title was changed in translation because the producers reasoned--correctly, in my case--that U.S. viewers wouldn't recognize that Alceste is a character in "The Misanthrope," a play by Moliere. (Not that Moliere is a household word in the U.S. either, but it's more recognizable than Alceste.)
The basic plot of the movie is set out within the first few minutes. Fabrice Luchini plays Serge Tanneur, a retired actor who now lives alone in a crumbling house near the ocean.
Lambert Wilson is Gauthier Valence, also considered an excellent actor, but now being defined by his role as a neurosurgeon in a French television series. He's truly famous--recognized by everyone, and pictured on the cover of magazines.
Gauthier has enough money to produce Moliere's "The Misanthrope," on the Paris stage. He wants to play the misanthrope, and he knows that the play will succeed if he can get Serge to play opposite him.
Serge protests that he really is retired, doesn't want to do it, but . . . maybe. He convinces Gauthier to stay in the local hotel for a few days while they read the play together. Then he'll decide. Everything else follows from those opening scenes.
I've seen "The Misanthrope" on stage, and it is truly a great play. Of course, those of us that don't speak French are really at a disadvantage. That's because the play is written in rhymed couplets, so the prose translations are just a pale reflection of what Moliere created.
Incidentally, Moliere didn't write in iambic pentameter the way Shakespeare did. He wrote in Alexandrines, which have 12 syllables rather than 10. This is important in the film, because at one point Serge tells Gauthier that he has to pronounce a word with two syllables rather than one, in order to maintain Moliere's "music." Gauthier replies that as long as the line is communicated, the number of syllables doesn't make any difference. Just one of many artistic disagreements between the two men. Both Luchini and Valence are such great actors that they can make us understand how two people--even friends who are truly dedicated to the theater--can still rub each other raw.
The situation is tense enough, and gets more tense when Serge says that he wants to play Alceste. They finally agree to alternate roles.
Things get more complicated with the appearance of Francesca, played by Maya Sansa. She's an Italian woman, living in France after her divorce. There appears to be a certain chemistry between Francesca and Serge, although it's subtle.
At one point, the three characters go for a bicycle ride along the coastline. It's a beautiful scene, clearly meant as an homage to Truffaut's "Jules and Jim."
I thought this was a great movie in many ways. The acting was superb. There's an obvious parallel between Serge as a misanthropic actor who would be typecast as the misanthrope in Moliere's play. The scenes when the two talented actors are rehearsing Moliere are brilliant.
We saw this film on the large screen, where it probably works better than it will on DVD. However, if you have to see it on the small screen, that's OK. For inexplicable--to me-- reasons, the film carries only a 6.7 rating on IMDb. Don't believe it. It's much, much better than that.
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