“The Imaginary Molière”: Olivier Py films a stifling camera lit by candles


Director and former director of the Avignon Festival, Olivier Py goes behind the camera, without straying too far from his first love: The Imaginary Molière aims to be a free and nevertheless documented portrait of the man of the theater. Deviating from the proper biopic, Olivier Py prefers to focus on the last moments of his hero (played by Laurent Lafitte, of the Comédie-Française): according to legend, Jean-Baptiste Poquelin died on February 17, 1673 on the stage of the Théâtre du Palais-Royal, in the middle of the fourth performance of Le Malade Imaginaire . That evening, the artist, very weakened, nevertheless continued to play, offering the public the spectacle of his slow agony.

Between the backstage and the stage, all the layers of his existence are mobilized: his love life; its relationship to power and religion; his supposed affair with Michel Baron, a great actor of the time, which allows the director to evoke a bisexual Molière – a fact accredited by several biographers.

A large digital table

We cannot say, however, that the film contributes to revitalizing a national monument, which did not necessarily need it; it is rather a strong feeling of confinement that emerges from this closed door lit by candles, with saturated ocher and red colors, filmed with a lot of sequence shots – the result resembles a vast digital painting with runny colors, particularly ugly.

The camera gestures in all directions, the actors declaim and tire. Instead of liberating emotion and meaning, these aesthetic biases lock them into a system that mistakes its agitation for virtuosity, its academicism for flamboyance. What perhaps works in the theater quickly wears out in a dark room.

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