Everyone looks a little older in the new movie releases. Is it memento mori week at the cinema? Cycling with Molière is the best of the age-obsessed new releases. In an island off La Rochelle, ex-actor and recluse Serge (Fabrice Luchini) is wooed into contemplating a comeback by ageing TV soap star Gauthier (Lambert Wilson). Gauthier covets a late-career succès d’estime in Le Misanthrope. The two actors will swap roles nightly on stage, taking turns as Alceste, the philosophising curmudgeon hero of Molière’s play. Serge himself, after all, spurning society and railing against life, has become a kind of Alceste.
Director/co-writer Philippe le Guay overdoes the Molière recitations. The film keeps stopping dead – like traffic at a level crossing – each time Serge and Gauthier rehearse. They spout reams, and I mean reams, of Alexandrine verse. You want to shout: “Hey, we’re watching a movie here. Can we move it along?” A little love plot dinks in belatedly, with a comely Italian house-seller (Maya Sansa). Some pretty Atlantic scenery plinks in. Then it’s back to “let’s do Molière” and “let’s build metaphors about misanthropy modern-style”. Thank God, or the Comédie-Française, whichever is older and senior, that good French performers still know how to make ancient French literature come alive – just about – for the popcorn crowd.