ColCoa Roundup: ‘Cycling with Molieré’ (Alceste a Bicyclette) Review

This week the Mediascape Blog is running a series of posts by Laura Swanbeck on the 2013 ColCoa Film Festival.

Lambert Wilson and Fabrice Luchini star in Cycling with Molieré, a pithy comedy of manners about Gauthier Valence (Wilson), a charismatic TV star who travels to Île de Ré to convince self-imposed recluse and former friend Serge (Luchini) to come out of retirement for one last performance of Molieré’s The Misanthrope. While Serge’s stubbornness and reluctance is worn down, the two men’s bickering and bantering continues as they set up shop in Serge’s cluttered country home and proceed to try to best one another in their pursuit of the lead role of Alceste.

To the credit of director Philippe Le Guay, who also collaborated with Luchini in his last film, The Women on the 6th Floor, the dramatic read-throughs are some of the strongest and, surprisingly, most cinematic scenes in the film. Consequently, these scenes reveal the beautiful rhythm of Molieré’s work and also serve as clever commentary on the debate between faithfulness to the original material and freedom of interpretation as Serge comically lectures Gauthier for swallowing up his syllables.

Further complicating matters, Francesca (Maya Sansa), their beautiful Italian neighbor, soon befriends the pair, and the two men find themselves competing to be the leading man in her life as well. This competition plays out humorously in their strained rehearsals as well as the climax of the film, which ironically mirrors Molieré’s classic farce. Moreover, the film delights in lampooning Gauthier’s profession as a semi-Soap star on television alongside Serge’s pretentious posturing as a pedantic, classically trained stage actor. While Gauthier searches for legitimacy on the stage, Serge, a purist in the theater, hopes to have his faith restored decades after it was shattered.

To counter the minimalism of Serge’s rustic dwelling, Le Guay changes the scenery by having Gauthier and Serge venture out-of-doors to go bicycling around the desolate, yet beautiful, island, reciting their lines while racing each other. This bike riding leads to over-the-top hijinks with intermittent passing motorbikes, which soon wears thin. However, Le Guay, who reveals that he was inspired by Laurel and Hardy, later displays a more masterful approach to capturing physical comedy with a scene in which Gauthier attempts to use an outdated stone Jacuzzi and nearly drowns in the process.

While recitations for the performance are fast-paced and dramatically staged, even they don’t hold a candle to the film’s taut, metatextual conclusion. As Gauthier, Wilson, who made an appearance at the festival for this film as well as Alain Resnais’s You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet, radiates a deft assuredness undercut by nagging insecurities about his career trajectory in television. In spite of this, Cycling with Molieré is truly Luchini’s starring vehicle. With his own seclusion on Île de Ré and reputation for performing classic literary works in real life, viewers may be left wondering how much is fact and how much is fiction. Yet that is the true reward of witnessing both Molieré and Le Guay at work: they always manage to keep you guessing.

Cycling with Molieré also played at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York. Pathé is handling foreign distribution, although an American release has yet to be announced.

Author bio:

Laura Swanbeck is a staunch cinephile, film festival enthusiast, and Master’s student in Cinema and Media Studies at UCLA. She spent the last few years working in film programming and championing independent filmmakers at the California Film Institute and San Francisco Film Society. Areas of interest include Middle Eastern and European transnational cinema with a specific focus on immigration, exile, and diaspora. Currently she’s enamored with French film after covering the ColCoa Film Festival. She has recurring nightmares about DCP issues, unabashedly loves feminist film theory, and probably would have been Pauline Kael’s arch-nemesis had she been born a few decades earlier.

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