Take a ride with ‘Alceste’.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Alceste a Bicyclette
Hebrew title: Moliere al ofanayim.
Philippe Le Guay
Written by Le Guay and Fabrice Luchini
With Luchini and Lambert
Running time: 104 minutes.
In French. Check with theaters for
Sometimes a modestly conceived movie can be quite enjoyable, and that’s the
case with Alceste a Bicyclette, directed by Philippe Le Guay. Lovers of French
classical drama in general and Moliere in particular will best appreciate the
film, as it concerns an actor who wants to mount a new production of Le
But the movie is not only about the world of theater. It
also says quite a bit about ambition, tradition, rivalry, eccentricity and
reverence for the classics in a world where most people have forgotten all about
Most of all, it is a showcase for its two superb actors,
Fabrice Luchini and Lambert Wilson. Luchini was last seen on the big screen here
in Le Guay’s previous film, The Women on the Sixth Floor , in which he played a
reserved and stressed bourgeois paterfamilias whose life changes when he gets to
know the Spanish maids who live upstairs. Luchini, credited with co-developing
the screenplay for this film with Le Guay, may not be a household name but has
been in more than 70 films, including Laurent Tirard’s Moliere (in which he
plays a laughable aristocrat who inspires some of Moliere’s characters) and
Francois Ozon’s Potiche , where he has a similar but contemporary part as an
Here, Luchini is Serge, a brilliant actor who
has retired from his profession abruptly and moved to a broken-down (but very
nice-looking) house he inherited on the Ile de Re. He is content with his
solitude, tooling around the island on his bicycle and painting nudes he copies
from photos. But when a younger actor, Gauthier Valance (Lambert Wilson) shows
up, he is happier to see him than he may be willing to admit.
there with a mission: to convince Serge to return to acting and to star in a
production of Le Misanthrope , where he and Serge will alternate the central
role of Alceste and the less showy part of Philinte.
Serge is intrigued,
and tempted. But it’s not in his nature to make anything easy for anyone. He
proposes that Gauthier stay on Ile de Re for a few days so they can work on the
play. If things are going well, he’ll go back to Paris and perform. If not,
he’ll stay put.
That’s the basic set-up for what turns out to be a
thoughtful character study of the two men, interspersed with and illuminated by
long passages from Moliere. Serge, of course, is a man much like Alceste. He is
bitter because he feels that his colleagues in show business abandoned him when
he suffered a bout of depression. He is supremely confident about his ability as
an actor, and that’s something that Gauthier envies.
Gauthier is the star
of a popular TV drama in which he plays a brain surgeon. Describing the
character, and the series, he says dryly, “He operates in the desert, in
blizzards, you get the idea.” People love his show and are drawn to him, and he
basks in his celebrity but, at the same time, is dissatisfied. He wants a
challenge; he wants to play opposite Serge. And so he’s willing to play Serge’s
games, even to pretend he is interested in buying a vacation house, just to keep
Although the two men mean to be single-minded in their
devotion to Moliere, they become involved with other people on the island. There
is Francesca (Maya Sansa), an elegant and arrogant woman going through a
divorce, who is selling a house that Gauthier considers buying. She and Serge
are drawn to each other. And Gauthier agrees to give an acting lesson to the
hotel manager’s niece, a lovely young woman who is planning a career in
pornography, who turns out to be too free-spirited even for him.
these excursions away from Moliere are the most predictable and least memorable
part of the film. It’s at its best when the two of them are working on their
text and finding new meaning in the words, themselves and each other.