This is a French comedy with claws, a film about two ageing and narcissistic actors planning a stage version of Molière’s The Misanthrope. Lambert Wilson plays Gauthier Valence, a good-looking old thespian who plays a surgeon in a highly successful TV show. Serge (Fabrice Luchini) hasn’t acted in three years and is living a hermit-like existence in a seaside town.
They are ostensibly friends but their rivalries and petty jealousies are apparent. Neither can agree who should play Alceste and so they decide to alternate, with the other taking the role of Alceste’s friend, Philinte. Between rehearsals, the friends go for rides on bikes whose brakes don’t work and flirt with a beautiful Italian divorcee who lives nearby.
Philippe le Guay, who also directed The Women on the 6th Floor, tricks the audience into thinking this is a cosy, Odd Couple-style buddy movie. He throws in slapstick (bike crashes, out-of-control jacuzzis) and a funny, well-observed scene in which the old devils are upstaged by the hotel owner’s porn actress daughter. Even so, there is an underlying bleakness and viciousness to the storytelling that reflects the misanthropic temperaments of the two leads.