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Moliere reconsidered

Posted at 3:53 PM on July 11, 2007 by Euan Kerr

French director Laurent Tirard says he didn't have much time for Moliere until recently. Just as Shakespeare is a staple of high school English classes, French students wade their way through Moliere, and Tirard says it's seldom a happy trip.

It was only as an adult that he became intrigued with Frances iconic playwright, and Tirard says he fell in love with the writer's use of language and his razor-sharp observations about French life.

Then he stumbled across something that gave him an idea about making Moliere a little more accessible to modern audiences.

The story goes that in 1644, just as Moliere was embarking on his career as an actor, he and his company decided they wanted to perform tragedies. Apparently they were wretched tragedians and soon the playwright was so deep in debt he was thrown in jail.

His dad bailed him out, but then he got in trouble again and went back to the slammer.

This time an anonymous person bailed him out, and then Moliere disappeared. Six months later he re-appeared, re-joined his acting troupe and began a 13 year provincial tour which culminated in his return to Paris in triumph. Over the next 13 years he wrote his most famous plays including "The Misanthrope," "Tartuffe," and "The Miser."

Tirard of course wondered happened during those missing 6 months. Historians speculate he went to ground in Paris and just tried to keep his nose clean.

But Tirard decide to have some fun and concocted a story where the playwright is bailed out by a rich but stupid gentleman who wants Moliere's help. M Jourdain wants to impress a glamorous socialite lady by acting a play he has written in her honor. One problem is he can't act, which is where Moliere comes in. A further issue is the play is wretched, and Jourdain rejects any of Moliere's suggestions for improvement.

Tirard and his writing partner Gregoire Vigneron studies Moliere's work carefully

"We really studied the plays as if we had gone to the School of Comedy," he told me today. "We studied the plays scene by scene, line by line, character by character to try to understand, just like two craftsmen trying to understand how another brilliant craftsman did what he did."

From what they learned they tried to create a story which contains the seeds of the playwright's famous work.

Tirard compares the resulting film "Moliere" to "Shakespeare in Love" in that he hopes it may encourage people to reconsider Moliere and delve into his work.

We'll see if that happens. The film will open locally in August

July 2007
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