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Moliere closes out Seattle in a blaze of Glory

The North American premiere of the grand French spectacle 'Moliere" closed out the 2007 edition of the Seattle International Film festival at the vast Cinerama Theater in what might aptly be described as "a blaze of glory".
While the opening films have already been forgotten this one will undoubtedly go into wide US release and is a sure contender for many commendations come Oscar time, 2008. Billed as "The French answer to Shakespeare in Love" (which swept all kinds of Oscars not too msany years back), which, in a way it is, since both films deal imaginatively with the early years of the writers in question before they became living legends in their own respective times -- there however, the basis for comparison ends.
Yes, this film is also a speculative romp speculating wildly on the wild oats period of Poquelin-Moliere, but it also offers insights into the genesis of one of his great stage triumphs, "Tartuffe", is much better acted and directed all around, has far better costumery and staging, far more impressive sets and is simply more intelligent (not to mention funnier) by a light year.

Although "Moliere" was made with a French audience in mind who would be privy to the literary references woven into the texture throughout, there is no need to know anything about the real Moliere to appreciate and enjoy this film on its surface merits alone. While I thought at first that much of the subtle comedy would be lost on an American audience reacting via subtitles, I was soon disabused of such apprehensions as the comedy, both visual and verbal, had the audience in stitches most of the way. It really took off at the point where young Moliere, taken into his household by the egregiously wealthy Monsieur Jourdain as a general life adviser and thespian instructor, asks Jourdain (the exquisite Luchini) in an acting exercise, to become a horse (hilarious fumbling ineptness) and then -- "No-No-No! M. Jourdain! -- Watch me --Here's how you do a horse" – whereupon Durgis launches into a side-splitting demonstration of how various horses horse around according to their individual 'personalities' -- This sequence itself is a pas de deux of comic genius alone worth the price of admission.

As for spectacle and performances, five thumbs up! -- Romain Durgis is a marvelous young Moliere, an outrageous rake and a superb physical comedian, Fabrice Luchini, one of France's most respected actors, both serious and comic, is tour-de-force, rib-ticklingly funny as the impossibly naive, prissy, cuckolded Monsieur Jourdain, Laura Morante, as the beautiful middle-aged wife carousing with Moliere is completely captivating, and all supporting roles are up to the high bar levels at which this chef-d'oeuvre is set. Kudos for the director and everyone else involved. Intelligent entertainment at the top of the mark! Director Laurent Tirard attended the Cinerama screening and introduced his film briefly in flawless English.

The closing gala was followed by a final split-level blast at the new Park Hotel with the entire paying audience invited, and most of the visiting VIPs, directors, etc., watering down and trying to find which way was up, or on which outer balcony (In view of a benignly glowing illuminated Space
Needle) the real social and networking action was taking place. A fitting close to an amazing festival. There was also a smashing party the night before at, of all places, the DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution!) Mansion across the street from the Harvard Exit where popular actor-director Steve Buscemi, had just introduced his excellent new feature, "Interview".
More on that one and other films of note in a follow-up report.

A funny sideline at the DAR party... As I stepped out front for a breath of air after too many drinks, there before me was famous Hungarian cameraman and now director, Lajos Koltai. I could hardly believe my eyes that such a big name (in Europe and in professional circles at least) had actually graced the festival by coming all the way in from somewhere to introduce his new film, "Evening" -- his first in English, with an all star A-list cast including Glen Close and Meryl Streep.
He looked a bit forlorn as nobody recognized this white-haired gentleman and was quite surprised when I greeted him in Hungarian with words equivalent to "As I live and breath -- It's Koltai Lajos!" (Note: In Hungarian the family name comes first). His reaction (in Hungarian) was "Where do I know you from -- Have we met?" -- I explained quickly that I live in Hungary, write about film, have met him a couple times before (sort of, in press situations) and was quite familiar with most of his films including all 18 he shot for Istvan Szabo -- whereupon he handed me his Hungarian name card and pulled away in a stretch Limo still scratching his head, and that was that. During this abbreviated exchange I did manage to get in one "journalistic" query, to wit: "What was it like working with an American film Diva like Meryl Streep?" To this Mr. Koltai said that, although she wasn't very familiar with his previous work, as a professional she had complete respect for her director or she wouldn't have taken the job.
Therefore, no problem. I'm sure Lajos didn't remember me from Adam from previous sightings in Budapest, but I would like to think that this chance encounter and moment of recognition sort of made his day in Seattle.

Tomorrow: More documentary reviews and Film Noir hits the Northwest.

Alex Deleon, Seattle, June 19, 2007


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