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“One day, they won’t say ‘speak French to me,’ they will say: speak to me in the language of Molière!” Says Molière, played by an exuberant Romain Duris, waving his tankard before he falls of the tavern table, much to the amusement of the assembled Parisians. But we all know it’s true. And once a country’s Greatest Writer has been canonized, it’s only a matter of time before he gets a movie that conflates his life with his work in the style of Shakespeare in Love and Factotum. Unrestrained by fact, the liberties taken by this approach are more shapely and palpable than the usual flabby biopic. Molière turns out to be an especially endearing attempt at the budding subgenre.

The film uses an undocumented period in Molière’s life to imagine the genesis of his play Tartuffe–which allows writer and director Laurent Tirard to have fun with the classic comedy. The story begins in 1658, when the actor is offered a deal he can’t refuse: Monsieur Jordain (Fabrice Luchini), a wealthy merchant, will pay off Molière’s debt if he trains him as an actor to impress the haughty widow Célimène (Ludivine Sagnier). For this task, Moliere takes the name of Tartuffe, pretends to be a priest, and moves into Jordain’s house–which leads to all sorts of farcial and amorous hijinx involving Jordain’s wife (Laura Morante), daughter (Fanny Valette), dog, and scheming society friends.

Accomplished and witty, the film even manages to wring morsels of truth out of the highly entertaining complications: who knew Jean-Baptiste Molière was the artistic forebear of Preston Sturges’ Sullivan, endlessly distraught over the value of comedy? Molière is scheduled to open on July 27.

Molière. Laurent Tirard, 2007. ****