While genius is often accompanied by personality disorders and self-absorption, the reverse is seldom true, though it hasn’t hurt David Caruso’s career.
Although similarly narcissistic television actor Gauthier (Lambert Wilson) is about 20 years too old to play the most famous role in French theater, here he is, leveraging his own primetime TV popularity toward a self-indulgent staging of Molière’s The Misanthrope.
A handsome, successful hack, he hopes to gain artistic credibility in the theater. He travels to Île de Ré , ostensibly to look at real estate, but actually hoping to recruit the retired actor Serge (Fabrice Luchini, also the film’s writer) for his play — like Molière’s most famous character, Serge has accepted exile and seclusion far from the mainland. Such is Gauthier’s shallowness and inflated self-image that, although he sought out Serge because of his misanthropy, he intends to play Alceste, the play’s actual misanthrope, himself.
Unlike the adoring fans that surround Gauthier whenever he goes out in public, Serge has a clear-eyed view of his friend’s actual abilities. Outraged that Gauthier wants him for a lesser role, Serge enjoys messing with his head, making him feel badly about the overwrought melodrama of his House-ish medical series, and barking at him for mispronunciations that break Molière’s alexandrine syllable structure.
Pretending to dither for a week, Serge, like Alceste, is actually appraising his friend’s character; that Gauthier fails to comprehend that testifies to his fundamental misunderstanding of the play itself.