If a Movie Were Only Moments, Then You'd Never Know You'd Watched One
I kept thinking about turning this off. I knew I wanted to finish it today, because today is Monday and I'm trying to get back into my regular library routine. (It's worth noting that this is the first Halloween possibly since I started this project that the library did not serve me up a coincidentally appropriate movie for the holiday, but I disappointed it first by going on vacation.) But "finish it" doesn't necessarily mean "watch it all the way through." On occasion, it means "watch it until I decide that I have no interest in finishing it then turn it off and watch something else." Or, in this case, go to the library and return it. But every time I decided that I was done, that I was going to get up and turn it off, something happened which was actually interesting, or someone would say something funny. And so I'd keep watching until my attention began to wane again and I'd think about turning it off. And repeat.
It happens that there are a few weeks in the life of great French playwright Jean-Baptiste Poquelin (Romain Duris), better known as Molière, which are unaccounted for. (This in great contrast to William Shakespeare, about whose schedule through all of his life we know practically nothing; there are, total, a few weeks where we know where he was at any particular time.) One day years later, he is sadly contemplating the fact that he is only known as a writer of farce and satire, and he wishes to write Great Drama. But instead, he reflects on those missing weeks, which he spent in the house of Monsieur Jourdain (Fabrice Luchini). Jourdain is in love with Célimène (Ludivine Sagnier), a widowed wit and beauty, and married to Elmire (Laura Morante). Jourdain hires Molière to help him with a play he is writing to impress her. He is also being taken advantage of by Count Dorante (Édouard Baer), because the count is a friend of the king's and Jourdain is a hopeless social climber. Naturally, Molière falls for Elmire and Dorante is using Jourdain's money and presents to woo Célimène himself, and he hopes to wed his son (Gilian Petrovsky) to Jourdain's daughter (Fanny Valette).
Now, I've not read any Molière. This to my Aunt Susie's minor dismay, as it happens. I elected not to buy the book we saw at a thrift store two weeks ago, feeling that it wasn't quite train reading. Therefore, I do not get all the sly in-jokes which apparently turn this a bit into the French equivalent of [i]Shakespeare in Love[/i]. It's also true that I am not as familiar with Louis XIV as I am with Elizabeth I, and so I cannot give you a blow-by-blow of the accuracy or not of such things as costume and hair. I will say that it's a pretty enough movie, and I am amused by Jourdain's demand that his wife cover her breasts when you compare her dress to those which women of the French court would be wearing in a hundred years. Or, indeed, had been wearing a hundred years before. The movie is of course pure speculation, making the assumption that he drew on his experiences for several of his later plays. And the ever-popular Lost and Doomed Love, of course. Class was a bit of a deal in France at the time and would only become more so.
The thing is, the movie doesn't hang together very well. It is explicitly stated that this takes place over a few weeks, but Molière is supposed to have gone from complete ignorance of the woman's existence to being willing to run away with her. Despite the pretty serious consequences he doubtless would have suffered, if you think about it, which the movie clearly doesn't. He's supposed to be one of the greatest writers the French language has ever produced, and the movie takes place in 1645, but he is unable to string together a prayer which would convince anyone that he really is the priest that for some reason Jourdain thinks he should pretend to be. And I'm unclear why exactly it should be a priest, given that Jourdain has plenty of teachers hanging about the place and might reasonably be expected to collect one more. What's a writing teacher to a man who is already being instructed in painting, dance, and singing? And who living in Europe in 1645 can't even recite the Lord's Prayer? That one is good if you're Catholic [i]or[/i] Protestant.
And yet for all that, I couldn't quite turn it off. It's funny enough in places, and Laura Morante is quite lovely. As is the Jourdain estate. (Jourdain is a merchant of some sort, but he has also been made a marquis. This, of course, is the subject of great disdain from the various "real" aristocrats of the piece.) I have some sympathy for Elmire, but none for pretty much anyone else in the story. It would be unfortunate for Henriette to end up married to Thomas against her will and while she was in love with someone else (I don't remember his name). However, it's an unfortunate event which happened to a lot of girls of her station, and at least Thomas was young, handsome, and interested in her. Dorante could have suggested marrying her himself, after all. I sympathize with Molière that he wanted to write something great when all anyone thought about him for was his comedy, but of course he was even then thought great because of his comedy. It's not every writer who makes the cast of the play laugh out loud the first time they read the script, which he is shown doing. How do you feel sorry for him after that?