In his book True and False: Heresy and Common Sense for the Actor, David Mamet writes about how he's seen actors adopt the neuroses of the characters they play -- because, as Mamet puts it, "our suggestibility knows no limits."
Director/co-writer Philippe Le Guay's comedy "Cycling with Molière" has some low-key fun with this observation.
The film introduces us to an actor named Gauthier (Lambert Wilson). Gauthier is the wealthy star of a "House"-like TV series, but he's looking to recapture some of his early theater cred. So he travels to Brittany's Île de Ré to try and lure an actor pal named Serge (Fabrice Luchini) out of retirement to perform with him in a stage version of Molière's "The Misanthrope."
The challenge is that Serge -- in a real-life "Misanthrope" move -- quit showbiz in disgust, and is now holed up in a crumbling house, having sworn off acting and most human contact. But soon they're rehearsing Molière in Serge's house in a sort of trial run. They also tangle with a free-spirited porn star (Laurie Bordesoules) and a blunt Italian divorcé (Maya Sansa).
In a not-terribly-shocking development, the visit starts to echo "The Misanthrope"'s comedy of manners. Luchini (Le Guay's frequent star, who also co-wrote and apparently inspired the idea for the film) imbues Serge with shades of Molière's misanthropic character Alceste. Meanwhile, Gauthier, the crowdpleasing company man, vaguely resembles Alceste's more politic pal Philinte. This adds an extra spark to Wilson and Luchini's dramatic readings -- particularly when they furiously rehearse arguments between Alceste and Philinte, then switch roles and continue the argument with a reversed dynamic. The rehearsal scenes are easily the best part of the film, a pas de deux between two seasoned performers, one slick, one surly, neither stupid.
The rest of the film is pleasant, but far less substantial. A few forays into slapstick are fairly lame -- this movie seems to think it's hilarious when people fall off their bicycles -- but the overcast off-season island setting has a melancholy loveliness, and a romantic subplot pads out the narrative well enough while underscoring the loose "Misanthrope" riff.
(104 min., not rated, opens Friday, May 23 at Living Room Theaters) Grade: B
'Cycling with Molière' (The Oregonian, Friday, May 23, 2014)