At the heart of Alceste à bicyclette there's a quite strong idea: to use the writing of legendary 17th-century playwright Molière as an examination of the motives and moods of two actors rehearsing the play. In this case, The Misanthrope and its tale of a recluse, bitter nobleman, serves as a look inside the minds of Gauthier Valence (Lambert Wilson) and Serge Tanneur (Fabrice Luchini), friendly actors with entirely different agendasGauthier is the star of a medical TV series that wants to be taken seriously and plans on putting on the play as a vehicle to prove his talents, visiting Serge, who withdrew to the countryside after a rejection of the business' practices and a personal breakdown, in an attempt to lure him back to the stage for a supporting role.

     The Misanthrope's structure, plot and dialogue thus becomes a coded reflection of their own power games as Serge, himself a disappointed misanthrope, strings Gauthier along by forcing him into a series of impromptu rehearsals of the play, uncovering the various levels of affection and competitiveness at stake. However, such a strong idea would require a stronger director than Philippe le Guay, who despite having scripted the film (with the help of noted writer Emmanuel Carrère) allows it to become mired in a swamp of indifferent handling and over-writing, with a rather forced love interest and broad, picturesque comedy expanding the film into side plots that are merely utilitarian and feel like it. Worse, Mr. le Guay seems to feel the need to "bring to life" the rehearsal scenes through constant (and pointless) camera movements that clutter the frame needlessly, when all he needed to do would be to just shoot the performances simply to propel the tale forward.

     It's a shame because the performances are there, with Messrs. Luchini and Wilson navigating smoothly the many levels of complexity of their characters as actors effectively uncovering themselves through the masks they're wearing, and the cautionary tale of blind ambition that underscores the entire story comes through rather well. But the decision to disguise the bitter, disenchanted exploration of the actor's psyche as a tony, cosy comedy of feuding egos never really meshes, throwing Alceste à bicyclette into a limbo it never really comes out of.

Cast: Fabrice Luchini, Lambert Wilson, Maya Sansa
Director: Philippe le Guay
Screenwriter: Mr. le Guay, with the collaboration of Emmanuel Carrère, from a story by Mr. Luchini and Mr. le Guay
Cinematography: Jean-Claude Larrieu  (colour)
Music: Jorge Arriagada
Designer: Françoise Dupertuis
Costumes: Élisabeth Tavernier
Editor: Monica Coleman
Producer: Anne-Dominique Toussaint  (Les Films des Tournelles, Pathé Production, Appaloosa Dévéloppement and France 2 Cinéma)
France, 2012, 105 minutes

Screened: distributor advance screener DVD, Lisbon, November 2nd 2013


Popular Posts