We went to the Île de Ré, France’s island in the Atlantic, for a few days in the summer of 1988. We were part of the problem (the mash of tourists), which had been exacerbated by the building of the bridge from La Rochelle, although we saw ourselves as slightly less culpable than the scores of French families with their caravans–we were staying at Mark’s father’s then-unoccupied house in Saint-Martin-de-Ré. I remember lightness and white (and an elephant: see photo at bottom)–hills of salt drying, the pale beaches (nicest in Les Portes) and the color of the houses.
Gauthier Valence (Lambert Wilson) arrives uninvited at one of these white houses during the off-season in Philippe Le Guay’s “Bicycling With Moliére.” Super successful playing a TV doctor (think Richard Chamberlain as Dr. Kildare), he’s eager to reestablish himself as an actor and hopes to persuade old colleague and lapsed friend Serge Tanneur (Fabrice Luchini)–who’s angrily abandoned his career and lives almost as a recluse–to co-star in a production of “The Misanthrope” that will also be Valence’s directorial debut.
Serge, unshaven, rumpled, and well-versed in Moliére (Luchini is an expert), is reluctant to commit to working with his glossy, expensively-dressed visitor (although he’s longing to return to the stage after a three-year hiatus) and demands a week of rehearsal, at the end of which, he’ll make his decision.
The actors meet for eight rehearsals (Le Guay says, “I thought a lot about duels in “Barry Lindon” and “Scaramouche”), of varying success and contentiousness, punctuated with meals, bicycle rides through the beautiful landscape, a real estate hunt with an eager agent, and “Jules and Jim”-like encounters with an embittered (yet very attractive) Italian woman (wonderful Maya Sansa), on the island to sell her house in the wake of a divorce–as the play and life overlap and comment on each other.
“Bicycling With Moliére” will open on Wednesday, April 23, at Film Forum.