Watch Me Entertain Myself!

Sacha Guitry once said, "You can pretend to be serious, but you can't pretend to be witty." Oh yes, I'm the great pretender.
(pilot episode: 20 January 2004)

Sunday, November 30, 2008


Watched a French film, Moliere, with my friend at his office. In the DVD cover it was billed as “the French Shakespeare In Love” and it’s a very convenient marketing one-liner. French historians and biographers have long noted that the celebrated playwright Moliere “disappeared” for almost a year; no records can be found of what he did or where he was during that time. This movie imagines what happened in Moliere’s missing years. And much like the Oscar winner film starring Gwyneth Paltrow, this one also asks, “What events could have inspired this great playwright to come up great characters, plots and themes?” Or as the director noted in the behind-the-scenes, they were intrigued by the idea of having the playwright interact with characters from his plays.

The movie is quite entertaining and engaging even if one isn’t familiar with Moliere’s works (most notably “Tartuffe”). But for the artists, students and fans of the theater, watching the film is an even richer treat. I will not bore you with a review; instead, let me share my reaction to a couple of points raised.

The film portrays Moliere as instinctively adept at comedy but amusingly inept at tragedy; his theater group has earned a reputation for their farces that audiences have come to expect. Yet ironically he views comedy as a lower form of theater, a study of mechanical mannerisms unlike tragedy, which mines the depths of the human condition. In one scene Mme. Jourdain insists that Moliere’s comic abilities touched her more than his skills in drama that, alas, are tragic to watch; when he complains that there are no comedies that explore the human condition, she rebukes him, “Then invent one!”

Much later on she requests Moliere to make her laugh during a time of grave sadness. When he complains that her condition was no laughing matter, she utters my most favorite line in the movie: “Unhappiness has comic aspects one should never underestimate.”

I have often heard the following sentiment uttered regarding some of the greatest comedians: They who can make us the laugh the most often have had the saddest of lives. To an extent I agree with it, for often it is laughter that saves them from utter despair. It is said that comedy is an indication of a sharp mind; comedy helps the mind make sense of senselessness.

Which makes the laughing/crying mask of the theater a great symbol for comedians—behind every laughing façade is a face filled with tears.

1 comment:

Dhon said...

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