Friday, July 27, 2007

Review - The Simpsons Movie

No film released this year - perhaps no film ever released - has as much to live up to as The Simpsons Movie. Matt Groening's ingenious creation has, at its best, delivered some of the funniest, smartest and most satisfying programming you'll ever see on television. Its characters have become icons, and the show has become the spiritual father to South Park, King of the Hill, Family Guy and any other animated series from the past two decades. But none of these shows - or any live-action counterpart - has managed to come close to the benchmark set by The Simpsons at its peak. No other show has struck such a perfect balance between classic visual and verbal gags, touching sentiment and incisive satire. When The Simpsons found that balance, which it did with awe-inspiring frequency, the result was a 22-minute work of art.

But has
The Simpsons Movie come too late? There's no denying the fact that the show is not what it once was. The consistent quality evident in its glorious golden period is a thing of the past, with the more recent episodes tending to jettison character-driven storylines in favour of crasser jokes, wackier antics, and lazy stunt cameos from celebrities. More importantly, the show seems to have lost the beating heart which was once its driving force.

So I have been looking forward to the release of
The Simpsons Movie with equal parts excitement and dread; desperately willing the film to succeed while secretly fearing the worst. My anticipation has been exacerbated by the impressively tight veil of secrecy Fox has shrouded the picture in, and I can't remember the last time I had such a tingly sense of excitement as I sat down to watch a major studio's summer offering. After all that it comes as something of a relief to say The Simpsons Movie is... well... it's OK. It's not as good as classic Simpsons, but it's a lot better than the show's recent standard. It's not as great as it should be, but it's nowhere near as bad as it might have been.

It certainly is a faintly surreal experience to watch these familiar characters in such an expanded form, though. Perhaps this is why it took me a while to really settle into the film, or perhaps it's that
The Simpsons Movie seems to have a spot of difficulty settling into its larger surroundings. After Ralph Wiggum has sung along to the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare (a neat touch), we are whisked off to the moon for an Itchy & Scratchy short. This is interrupted by Homer standing up in a packed cinema to call us "suckers" for paying to see something which is free on TV, and then the slightly modified opening credits begin, before the picture finally settles down in Springfield where Green Day are performing a concert from a floating stage in the city's heavily-polluted lake.

It's a cluttered and unfocused opening, but everything eases into a more comfortable pace thereafter, and the opening half-hour of
The Simpsons Movie is the film's best. Homer adopts a pig, Bart rides naked through the streets of Springfield on a skateboard (a brilliantly conceived sequence), Grandpa Abe has a religious experience, and Lisa falls in love with an Irish eco-warrior - who is most definitely not Bono's son. This is all great stuff, full of perfectly timed zingers and great sight gags, and when the plot eventually kicks in it seems to hold promise. The Simpsons Movie's narrative springs from Homer doing something irretrievably stupid - quelle surprise! - but in this case it's an act of stupidity which turns Springfield into an ecological disaster zone. The US Government, led by President Schwarzenegger (what happened to Rainier Wolfcastle?), decides the best course of action is to seal the city off from the rest of the world immediately, by placing a giant dome over its inhabitants.

The events occurring from this situation see the film's plotting growing increasingly haphazard. The Simpsons find themselves on the outside of the dome, fleeing from the authorities, while the rest of the city's population remains on the inside. Choosing to disconnect the Simpson clan from the place they have called home for 18 years feels like a gross error of judgment on the part of the filmmakers. The vast and hugely entertaining supporting cast of characters has long been one of
The Simpsons' greatest assets, and I was disappointed to see the family heading off into the distance for their own private adventures instead of interacting with their neighbours in the classic manner. The film relocates to Alaska for a large chunk of its middle section, only offering us the occasional vignette of life under the Springfield dome. This means a few of my favourite Simpsons regulars are little more than silent bystanders - the great Mr Burns is criminally underused - although Chief Wiggum gets a big laugh in every one of his appearances.

This slight lull in the centre of the picture also reveals the storyline's shortcomings, as it becomes clear that there really isn't enough narrative depth here to sustain a feature film, even one clocking in at less than ninety minutes. An astonishing eleven writers have been credited with
The Simpsons Movie's screenplay - including such stalwarts as Groening, James L Brooks, George Meyer and Mike Scully (what a shame they couldn't tempt Brad Bird back to the writers' room) - but it's really just a collection of old plotlines and themes rehashed into a longer form, which I suppose might be inevitable when the show has already explored every aspect of its world over the past two decades. The hit rate of the jokes also becomes a lot more inconsistent in the second half, and many sequences just don't work at all - such as a faux-Disney bedroom scene featuring woodland animals, or the fantasy sequence which enables Homer's epiphany.

The Simpsons Movie works more often than not, though. The animation is excellent, being given subtle new dimensions for its new medium, the cast are uniformly perfect for their roles (naturally), and it made me laugh a lot. Perhaps it's simply the weight of great expectations which is behind the niggling sense of dissatisfaction the film ultimately left me with, but I do feel there's something missing here which even the action-packed and supremely well-staged finale couldn't compensate for. The Simpsons Movie is a perfectly decent film; but despite all of the fine jokes on show, the only scene to really stay with me is a tender and genuinely moving interlude which sees Homer watching a video of his wedding day as his marriage threatens to fall apart. Julie Kavner's quivering vocalisation of Marge's disappointment and regret is the one moment in the whole picture which matches the subtlety and humanity the show regularly achieved at its very best. But it's only one moment, and that's not really enough.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

"I don’t want to hear my text because it is not Shakespeare, it is not Molière, it is just Stephane Brizé" - An interview with Stephane Brizé

In 1999 Stephane Brizé made his film debut with Hometown Blues, but then the young writer/director disappeared from cinemas for years, before finally returning in 2005 with his charming romance Not Here to be Loved. The film is finally getting a UK release this summer, and I met Brizé when he was in London recently to promote Not Here to be Loved as part of the French Film Festival.

There’s a six year gap between this film and your debut picture Hometown Blues, what were you doing in that time?

What was I doing? Having a nervous breakdown, or something like that. It was very difficult for me to continue after my first film, I lost my way, and it took a long time to find my way again. In between the two films I made a documentary, I went to a geriatric hospital - not for me, for the film - and it’s a film that nobody saw but I am very proud of it. It was a very important film for me because I saw people who were nearly dying and when I spoke with them I could see that many of them had made a mess of their lives, and when I talked to these people who had not made a success of their lives I realised that I did have the chance to do something with my own life, and what I wanted to do was to make films.

You see, after most directors make their first film, many of them try to make their second film completely different to the first, and that’s what I tried to do when I first attempted my second film, but I lost my way when I tried to do that. So this film is not so far from my first film, it is in the same artistic direction, I made a detour and then came back to find my own path again. It was very difficult, but when I found my way again I was proud of that because I was much more mature.

When you did start working on Not Here to be Loved, why did you decide to base your story around a character like Jean-Claude?

I think the story I just told you is like the story of Not Here to be Loved. At one time I told myself “you have the right to be a director” and Jean-Claude is older but he tells himself “you have the right to be happy in your life”, so it’s exactly the same story, but my own story would not be very interesting on the screen so I have to imagine something else. In all my films I always speak about myself, I am always interested in myself, but when I say that it’s not because I have a big ego. The questions I have in my head are, I’m quite sure, the same questions you have. We are afraid to die, we are afraid to not find love in our life, we often don’t have it easy with our parents - we all have the same problems. So when I speak about myself I really speak about our-selves.

Were you already interested in the tango before this film?

I didn’t know anything before the film about the tango. But when I first wrote the idea for the story I very quickly wrote “Jean-Claude Delsart will fall in love with the tango”, and it was only later that I understood the melancholy of the tango is an echo of his own melancholy.

And how did you work on the music for the film, because it’s a very important aspect in the way it reflects the characters’ feelings and the rhythms of the picture.

In all my films there is music and I thought a lot about the music for this one. I heard many, many records for the tango, and because I didn’t bring in an artistic director for the music I had to do it myself. So I had to find music for the tango lessons and create the music of the film. I had to find the right music for the right emotions and sequences of the tango, and for the film music I met two of the three musicians of Gotan Project. They’re a very famous group, one is French, one is from Switzerland and one is from Argentina, and they have sold records all over the world. It is tango, but with modern rhythms. My producer knew one of the guys and he gave them the script, and they liked it and they said yes. They accepted for almost nothing and they had to create the music before the film because at the end of the film the characters have to dance to the music. I didn’t say many things, I told them “I need music here, here and here”, and before the film they played me two pieces of music, and when I heard that I was very moved because I heard the music of my film. They had understood the feeling of my film and I loved the music. But then I said to myself “I have to make a good film because this music is so good”, so it was another challenge for me.

When you approached the actors to appear in the film did they have dancing experience?

Not at all. Patrick told me that a long time ago he had danced a little, but not tango. But when I saw him I saw somebody who was at ease with his body, and at the very first lesson his teacher said “we have work, but Patrick and Anne have tango in their blood, so it will be OK”. It was amazing for me because when I was in front of my computer I wrote “We see love emerging when Jean-Claude and Françoise dance” but when you are on the set it’s different thing to writing the scene. The heart of the film is the scenes when they dance together, and if we feel nothing there then the film is very bad. It was a big risk. They worked a lot, but the solution was in my choice at the very beginning. At first I chose Patrick Chesnais, and then I chose the woman for Françoise. I didn’t know Anne Consigny before, and I had a few ideas about actresses, so I invited them all one after another and I played a tango record and I asked them to dance with Patrick. I just wanted to see what I could feel between Patrick and the actresses, and when I saw Patrick and Anne together it was incredible. Even if they didn’t dance very well it was already a couple, and we could feel a very strong energy, almost a sexual energy, so I knew it was the right choice. I knew this man and this woman could create something very special on the screen, and it would be much easier for me because the spectator will feel it, even if he doesn’t understand what he feels.

Some of my favourite scenes in the film featured both Jean-Claude and his father, who is brilliantly played by Georges Wilson. How did you cast him?

He’s a great actor who has done many films but is much more known for his plays, he has a big, big career in the theatre. When I chose Patrick Chesnais I had to find his father, and when you see Patrick he is quite impressive, so I had to find a father who was a little bit more impressive than him. There aren’t so many actors in France who can do that, and even though we don’t see him much at the cinema I very quickly thought about Georges. He has a wonderful presence and he never smiles, so I thought he would be perfect. I sent Georges the script and after he read he phoned me and said [adopts very serious, deep voice] “I like your script very much, it’s wonderful, very well-written, but I won’t do it. The character is myself, and I don’t want to play a character so close to myself. It’s too difficult for me and I won’t do it”. I told him “you know, the more we speak the more I think it’s a good idea”, but he said no.

It was difficult for me because I thought it was so perfect; I was very touched by what he said and I need to be touched by the actors, to feel close to them. I spoke to a friend who is a theatre writer and he had written a play for Georges two years previously. I told him what Georges had said and he told me “that’s good news, it means he will accept. He just wants you to insist”. So I insisted and he just asked me to change a few things about the character. He was on the set for four days and on the first day Patrick was very intimidated because they had never played together before. At the beginning of a film even a great actor is a little bit afraid and Patrick being intimidated by Georges was very good for the relationship between the characters. I shot a lot with these two actors and by the second day of shooting I had used the whole week’s film. My producers were very upset, but I knew I was right because those scenes were very strong.

How long was the preparation and rehearsal process before you started shooting?

I never rehearse. We arrive on the set and we shoot with no rehearsal at all. I don’t rehearse the scene of the film, but I rehearse with the actors and I write other scenes for them, because I don’t give the whole script to the actors, I give them the scenes a short time before shooting. I want to capture the life on the screen and for me the only way to capture that is to hear something dangerous on the set. I don’t want to hear my text because it is not Shakespeare, it is not Molière, it is just Stephane Brizé. I know where I want the scene to go but I refuse to let the actors arrive on the set with the words in their head. It takes a lot of time for me to write the text but in the end I must inject life into the scene and we mustn’t know everything. It keeps the actors alive and sometimes I see actors who know the text and they are just repeating it, you know? It doesn’t have to be exactly my words but I get about 70% of my text, and I like that.

Did your actors find it easy to adapt to that kind of filmmaking style?

I think so, they didn’t complain. Well, they didn’t complain to me, anyway [Laughs].

You mentioned that it takes you a long time to write the script originally…

Yes, nine months.

And you co-wrote this film along with Juliette Sales, how do you work together on a screenplay?

First I arrive with the story on three pages. I know the characters, I know the story, at the beginning they will be here and at the end they will be there. So we start with that and together we are going to create complicated characters; where do they come from? who are they? what is the link between them? At the end of this I know everything about the characters, I even know when they had their first tooth. The co-writer and I create a synopsis together and then we stop working together. I write the script on my own and when I am finished I give it to my co-writer, who will read it and then give comments back to me, and then I will write on my own again. I keep giving it back to her and she keeps giving comments back to me until we have the script.

On both of your films you have worked with a female co-writer.

All the time.

Why is that?

Because we always make love at the end [laughs]. No, to be honest it’s because I love how women are honest and I feel very close with women, much more than with men. I think they are much more up-front and I think it’s a good thing for my work. Women know things I don’t know and I know things they don’t know, so it’s a good mix. On my first film it was with Florence Vignon and on my next project it will be with Florence Vignon again, and on the film after that it will be with another co-writer who is also a woman. It isn’t a coincidence, I just really, really need that for my writing.

Before you became a filmmaker you started out in the theatre…

Well, not really. When I was 18 or 19 I went to University and studied electronics and at that time I hadn’t really seen any films or read any books, I didn’t know anything. Then I started working as a technician in TV, and from the start I had a voice in my head telling me “this is not your life here. You are well paid, but it is not your life”. I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do but I knew it was acting or directing, something in that direction. So I went to a drama school in Paris for three years and during that time I directed three or four plays, but I could see that theatre was not my language. At the same time I started to write stories and I could see they were more suited to film. I sent my first script to many producers and they said “it is very interesting, we would like to do the film, but why don’t you do some short films first”. I said no, I wanted to make my long feature film because when you are 24 you have many big ideas and are also a little pretentious.

But I did direct my first short film, and I played in that short film. It’s very strange because I saw that film just three days ago, it was about 1993, and it was strange to see that again. Then I directed a 33 minute film which received many prizes in festivals in France. I then got rid of my original feature film idea and wrote Hometown Blues with Florence.

So what was it about cinema that made you choose that direction over the theatre?

I think I can capture the sense of truth with cinema that, for me, would be impossible with theatre. I’m not very intellectual, I feel things, and I think with cinema we can speak quietly and see small aspects of the characters. Also, the stories I have in my head are for cinema because there are ellipses in my films which would not suit the theatre. It is just not my language, and I go to the cinema much more than I go to the theatre.

You mentioned earlier that you were working on another project with Florence Vignon, what stage are you at with that film?

I haven’t started shooting that yet, but a few weeks ago in France I had another film released called Among Adults and I have finished another script which is an adaptation of a book by Eric Holder called Miss Chambon. It is a very simple story, a love story, about a man who has a normal life with a son and a wife, and he has never asked himself many questions about his life. One day he falls in love with the teacher of his son, but this is a real problem for him because it is not his style. She plays the violin and when she plays music it opens some doors within him and creates a big explosion, so he has to make a choice. But I can’t tell you more than that, you’ll have to see it [Laughs].

The other film, Among Adults, I made before Not Here to be Loved. It was an experiment with twelve actors; I wrote the script in ten days, shot it in four days, and edited it in four days, so in eighteen days I had made the film. Then I shot Not Here to be Loved and after that Claude Lelouch saw Among Adults and he loved it. He said “you cannot leave that film on the shelf, we must release it”; so he invested the money to convert it from video to film and to make the mix of the film, and then we found a very big distributor - the same distributor behind La Vie en Rose actually - and we received incredible notices in the press, incredible.

You can’t have expected such a reaction to something you made in just four days.

No, because I just made it as a way to find something. When I wrote the script I didn’t have any pressure, I wrote what I wanted to write and it asked me many questions about artistic freedom. When are we free? We try to be free but it is not so easy with pressure from producers, the TV, etc. It’s an incredible experience because I never expected any spectators to see it on the screen, and it was wonderful for the actors too because it was their first time on screen as well.

All of them were inexperienced actors?

They had all played at the theatre, but never in front of the camera. It was wonderful because they didn’t bring any pre-conceived ideas, they were virgin in front of the cameras. I knew that I had no money and only four days, and I wanted all the actors to have the same time on the screen, so I thought a lot about La Ronde by Arthur Schnitzler which is a play with ten scenes and each scene has one character who was in the scene before, and in the end it comes back to the first character. I knew I had 12 actors so I wrote 12 scenes and it speaks about the relationship between men and women. I love that film because it’s very natural and because I shot it on a video it feels something like a Dogme film. I hope you will see it, I know The London Film Festival wanted the film last October but it was not possible for us, but I think it may be possible to show the film at the festival this year.

I wanted to shoot this year but it was impossible because I would have to shoot at the end of Spring and now it is too late to prepare. I haven’t found the cast either but when I wrote the main character I was thinking about Zinedine Zidane for the part, so I will try to call him.

That would be an amazing piece of casting.

Yes, but is it easy to make a film directing somebody who is a demi-god? I think it would give me a lot of pressure! It would be fantastic for the film because he is exactly the character. He has a kind of light inside of him, an incredible presence, and he would be wonderful on screen. I don’t know if we can get him, but I will try.

Review - Not Here to be Loved (Je ne suis pas là pour être aimé) and Molière

At the time of year when the majority of films are more concerned with dazzling the eyeballs than engaging the heart, it might be the perfect moment to contemplate a film which pulls off the seemingly difficult task of doing the simple things well. Stephane Brizé's Not Here to be Loved is a film which doesn't try to break any new ground or do anything out of the ordinary, and yet it remains a perfectly pleasurable way to spend 90 minutes. The story is old hat cinematically - the tale of a stuffy, middle-aged man who finds a new lease of life when he enrols in a dance class - and it's a story which has already been told twice on screen relatively recently, in Masayuki Suo’s Shall we Dance and in the Richard Gere-starring remake of the same name. But Not Here to be Loved works not because of the story it tells, but through the manner in which that story is told.

The man at the centre of this narrative is Jean-Claude Delsart (Patrick Chesnais), a Parisian bailiff on the wrong side of 50. He is trapped in an unsatisfying job, he lives alone since his divorce, and even small talk among his colleagues - including his own son (Cyril Couton) - at the office is an unbearable ordeal. Every weekend Jean-Claude makes the trip to his father's rest home to keep the old man (a fantastic Georges Wilson) company, but he receives little thanks for his efforts from this grumpy and petulant figure. This is a man trapped in a rut and only going downwards, but after his doctor prescribes exercise for Jean-Claude's heart he finally decides to visit the dance class across the street which he has been covertly watching from his office.

His first lesson is comically awkward, of course, but Jean-Claude does bump into the beautiful Françoise (Anne Consigny). She recognises him from the past - his mother used to be her nanny - and as the pair reminisce an affection quickly grows between them. But Françoise is taking the class in preparation for her upcoming nuptials, to terminally blocked novelist Thierry (Lionel Abelanski), and the conflicting emotions which she feels are mirrored by Jean-Claude, who must decide whether to break the habit of a lifetime and declare his feelings for his younger dance partner.

This is well-trodden ground, but the steps Brizé takes in telling this story make it feel a little fresher than you might expect. The director has a deft, easygoing style. His static camera captures the banality of Jean-Claude's everyday existence, trudging dutifully up and down stairs to issue eviction notices, and quietly absorbing the insults they inevitably hurl his way. The grey and stultifying nature of his workplace is emphasised by Brizé's straightforward compositions, and this approach allows the director to gradually free up the camera as his protagonist enters the world of dance. His film becomes somewhat bolder in tune with Jean-Claude's growing confidence, and the excellent music helps to shape the picture as it progresses.

The progression of the film's central relationship is also a delight to behold, with both of the leads being perfectly cast. Chesnais' humble, charmingly downbeat performance is a wonderfully subtle display of acting. He is minimalist yet expressive, and he charts his character's development in gradual, perfectly-judged shades. He also has a tangible chemistry with his co-star, the lovely Anne Consigny, whose open and optimistic demeanour contrasts sharply with that of Chesnais. Like Jean-Claude, Françoise is trapped by circumstance, her pushy mother and sister having completely taken over the preparations for the wedding, and the actress captures her confused emotions beautifully. When Jean-Claude and Françoise dance together, it is a chance for both to break free from the ties that bind, allowing them to let go of the worries and pressures which have made their lives so stifling.

Not Here to be Loved is full of wonderful individual scenes - Jean-Claude's comical attempt to buy perfume for Françoise , his father's truculent behaviour during a game of monopoly, and a lovely sequence in which the whole class goes to watch a professional performance, although Jean-Claude can't take his eyes off Françoise sitting a few rows ahead. These scenes are perfectly handled, but Brizé's firm grip on the film's emotional register never allows the picture to build up a head of steam, resulting in a film which is affecting only up to a point. The strand of the film concerning Jean-Claude's fractious relationship with his father is exceptionally written and acted, but it never quite delivers the emotional impact we're looking for, and the way Brizé wraps up this part of the narrative feels a little too neat.

Not Here to be Loved might fail to really hit the desired emotional peak right at the climax, but it still manages to leave the viewer with a warm sense of satisfaction; the satisfaction which comes from watching a simple story being told in a professional, engaging way. Stephane Brizé, in only his second feature, has skilfully delivered a film which is rich in character and detail, a film which constantly holds the viewers' attention as is details the efforts of two ordinary people trying to somehow give their lives meaning and purpose. This modest French effort isn't a great film, but it is a simple film made with a sense of maturity, intelligence and heart. Often, that's all you need.

Read my interview with
Stephane Brizé here.

A title like
Molière tends to come burdened with certain expectations. Think of any recent feature which has taken its subject's name as the title - Capote, Kinsey, Pollock - and you'll generally find a very serious-minded picture which focuses on the facts as it tries to explore the life of a famous figure. Laurent Tirard's fanciful treatment of the great French playwright's life is nothing of the sort, though. Instead of detailing every event in Jean-Baptiste Poquelin's story in the standard manner, Tirard mostly focuses his attention on a specific period which has long been a matter of dispute among historians and biographers. At the age of 22 Molière was a struggling dramatic actor, whose loyal troupe was crippled by debts, and his financial problems ultimately landed him in jail - that much we know to be true - but there is little consensus on what happened after he was released.

This is where Tirard picks up the story. The writer/director has taken advantage of the ambiguity which surrounds the subsequent two years of Molière's life, and his mostly fictional narrative suggests that this period might have been the making of the man history remembers. Here, Molière (played by Romain Duris) is bailed out of jailed by Mr Jourdain (Fabrice Luchini), a wealthy but pitifully dim bourgeois, and he has very specific plans for the bemused actor. Jourdain needs Molière to help him write a play which will win the heart of the lovely young maiden Célimène (Ludivigne Sagnier). This little plot must be kept under wraps though, as Jourdain's suspicious wife (Laura Morante) is constantly on the prowl.

Molière soon finds himself in the middle of a farcical comedy of romantic entanglements and misunderstandings - the kind of story, in fact, that he might well have written himself. This notion, of viewing an artist's life through the prism of his own work, is a smart one, and the inevitable comparisons to
Shakespeare in Love are apt. Tirard and his co-screenwriter Grégoire Vigneron liberally scatter references to Molière's work throughout the picture, with many of the characters he meets seemingly being the inspiration for those who would later crop up in plays like Tartuffe and Les Précieuses ridicules, and the film as a whole plays as a period romp, leaning towards farce in a number of areas.

There's one problem with all of this though -
Molière simply isn't funny enough. The film is spottily amusing, but to really work as intended everything needed to be sharper and tighter than Tirard allows it to be. The director's pacing is slack, with many scenes being allowed to drift on longer than they should be; it's as if the director is more concerned with letting us drink in the sumptuous production values (and it is a glossy package, even if the overbearing musical score is one of the year's worst) instead of allowing the film to build up the kind of fizzy momentum it desperately requires. A few of the more outlandish comic scenes are badly overplayed, slipping from farce to outright hysteria, and they showcase the awkwardness in the casting of the central character. Romain Duris has shown himself to be a fine, charismatic leading man in recent years, but based on this appearance comedy is not his forte. The actor is game, but he never looks entirely comfortable in a part which asks for a really light touch, and his performance - particularly when he impersonates a horse - is occasionally excruciating. Molière's supporting cast rallies around Duris though, with Luchini displaying some unexpected comic skills and the wonderful Laura Morante providing the film with a welcome pool of subtlety and grace.

Molière sadly slips into mawkishness towards the end as well, dragging badly as the clock inches towards the two-hour mark, and the film closes on a trite, unsatisfying note. There are moments buried within this picture that might make you smile and the film is engaging more often than not, but it's a clunky, mishandled effort which stumbles when it should be light on its feet. By the end of the picture Molière has learned to set aside the serious dramas and to stay true to his natural gift - making people laugh - but it is Tirard's failure to do the same which kills any potential his unorthodox biopic might possess.