Gauthier (Lambert Wilson) journeys to a small town in France to convince a friend and former colleague to take part in a stage production of Moliere’s The Misanthrope. The trouble is that both men still work from ego and compete for everything; the lead role, the best bike and the affection of a neighbour. Can the two put their differences aside for the sake of the play?
Fabrice Luchini and Lambert Wilson play the lead characters here. Serge (Luchini) has retired from acting, and takes his frustrations out on the house left to him by an uncle. Gauthier (Wilson) is still a successful actor, with an extremely popular TV show n the air. At first the two seem completely different, but as the film goes on, it becomes clear that they are more alike than they think. The two lead actors work well together, allowing the energy and the power held by the characters to ebb and flow. Each offends and hurts the other, as they play a sprawling power game with one another, trying to see who will break first.
The film is based on an idea had by Luchini and director Philippe Le Guay. As the two men struggle to decide whether to produce The Misanthrope, their actions begin to resemble those of the characters in the play. This is a clever juxtaposition – and clearly the central idea of the film – but it is rarely over stated. Instead, the characters switch between pessimism and optimism, in the same way that they switch characters when reading, based on the flip of a coin. Cycling with Moliere is a film about ego and the devastating effect that pride and thoughtlessness can have on our relationships. As well as this, the film is an examination of friendship and is often surprisingly funny.
However, while the relationship between the two men is a delight, there are several subplots that trail off, as though forgotten, and are not needed. In fact, discussions with a young porn actress and a squabble over house buying are not needed in the film, and only serve to distract from the main plot. The same goes for some odd and unnecessary moments of slapstick comedy.
As director, Philippe Le Guay carefully manages the energy and power as it ebbs and flows between the main characters. Each scene is directed with a light touch – even the superfluous ones – and allowed to show us a little more about each character. The running time does work against the film from time to time, however, and a tighter edit may have made for a more compelling and focussed film.
Cycling with Moliere is a clever and quirky film about life imitating art. The two lead actors are a joy to watch, and Le Guay allows their relationship to take centre stage. Some odd subplots and a rambling running time do distract from the main story, but underneath these complaints is an engaging and interesting story.