This saucy, speculative romp in French with English subtitles can be enjoyed without knowing the lowdown of this lauded French dramatist.
Moliere stars Romain Duris in a picture that works on the premise of the titular character being out the picture for 13 years.
Initially, one finds Moliere or Jean-Baptiste Poquelin coming back to Paris with a traveling stage troupe with farces being their bread and butter. The royalty has made a place for their theatre in the capital. Yet, Moliere believes that "tragedy is the true theatre."
The script, co-written by gifted director Laurent Tirard, gets embroidered through a younger Moliere's predicament in 1645 of being in debt. A talent scout gets him out of trouble (one sees a bit of Charlie Chaplin in dealing with on-stage process servers).
It turns out the very opulent Jourdain (Fabrice Luchini) will cover the playwright/actor's debts in return for coaching him to act convincing in a one-act play that he wrote. The goal for Jourdain is to get closer to beatific Celimene (Ludivine Sagnier), a widowed marquise.
There is much presence from the lovely Italian Elmire, a wonderful Laura Morante, who is Jordain's wife, while Moliere poses as a priest named Monsieur Tartuffe to lay low as he "attempts" to give his pupil a performance boost. And, there is the smarmy, egotistical Durante, an effective Edouard Baer, positioning Celimene to respond to this deeply enamored gullible buffoon.
Tirard manages to keep Moliere from becoming pretentious, even if it threatens to overstay its welcome, as the wry touches help as the conflict mounts credibly. The production design is exquisite right down to the costuming. Duris handles a tricky role with relative ease and Luchini is solid as the lovelorn guy. And, Baer and Morante are huge benefits in a yarn that creatively handles its protagonist's misdirection and milieu in ways that resemble the enormously popular Shakespeare In Love.