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Marquise Review

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The artistic clashes of Moliere and Racine in the court of Louis XIV.

★★★★★

This period romp about artistic clashes between playwrights Moliere and Racine at the court of Louis XIV races along as though its life depended on it. The result is a muddled, decidedly soapified, but not unintelligent yarn about suffering in the name of art, with Marceau as the tantrum-throwing dancer-turned-diva torn between Moliere's integrity and Racine's love.

After Marquise (Marceau) is discovered dancing and otherwise servicing the peasants by Moliere's troupe of travelling players, she marries the company's most rotund actor and starts demanding more speaking parts. Meanwhile, Moliere (Bernard Girardeau), a popular satirist, is having difficulty satisfying the whims of the fey king (Lhermitte) and is faced with competition from the up-and-coming scribe Racine (Wilson), who writes classical tragedies. Marquise is drawn to Racine, unaware that he may not be as squeaky clean as he seems, and ends up as his leading lady.

The film's main thesis is the fragility of fame and Belmont opts for a bawdy naturalistic sense of period, never questioning the loose morals and murderous machinations of her characters. The toilet manners of the French court are given regular exposure - the king greeting visitors on a commode, for example, his flunkies then dipping into the pot with their fingers.

Although Marceau plays the pouty prima donna to a T, there's a degree of vacancy to her character, which consequently fails to engage the audience's sympathy when push finally comes to shove. On the other hand, Lhermitte is oddly compelling as a skittish Louis XIV and Girardeau is a lived-in, engaging Moliere.

Although the subject matter may seem obscure, this is at least a lively, if only spasmodically focused, affair.