Cyrano de Bergerac

Cyrano de Bergerac (1990)Synopsis: One of France’s literary treasures commands the screen with this “exceptionally graceful adaptation” (Los Angeles Times) that received a best Foreign Film Golden Globe and Five Oscar nominations, including best actor for Gerard Depardieu!

Cyrano (Depardieu), a master swordsman and poet, feels he can not woo his beloved Roxane (Anne Brochet) due to an unfortunate physical flaw: his grotesquely large nose. Resigning himself to helping another suitor, the dashing yet tongue-tied Christian (Vincent Perez), Cyrano uses his master of words to win Roxane for him. But when Roxane finds that she has fallen for Christian’s mind – and not for his beauty – which of her two suitors will finally possess her heart?

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Cyrano de Bergerac 9.75

eyelights: the prose. Gérard Depardieu. Anne Brochet. Vincent Perez. the staging. the locations. the music. the direction. the production.
eyesores: …

“My life’s work has been to prompt others and be forgotten. Remember that night when Christian came to your balcony? That moment sums up my life. While I was below in the shadows, others climbed up to kiss the sweet rose.”

‘Cyrano de Bergerac’ is my favourite film ever. It’s likely going to remain at the top for a long, long time.

It was 1990, or was it 1991, and our high school did a road trip to see it at the cinema in a neighbouring town. I don’t actually know why that was, given that I certainly hadn’t studied the play in class.

It was an outing that included not just our school, but the one that my own “Roxane” went to. She was similar to Roxane only in appearance, and only somewhat, but not in attitude – she wasn’t precious and vain.

The film spoke to me. I related to Cyrano in some ways, feeling deformed and unloved, daydreaming of romance, but being incapable of putting a foot forward to make it happen. I lived vicariously through my friends’ own love lives.

I certainly wasn’t a poet, as he was. And I certainly didn’t have the bravura and sense of honour that was his. I was a troubled teenager still trying to make my way in the world, trying to find my own direction. But I felt a kinship.

“Roxane” is long gone and so is much of my teen angst. My daydreams of love have become reality, even if real life isn’t always as romantic. And yet I still feel as though that part of Cyrano is still in me. His pain and the beauty of his heart touch me greatly.

I’ve seen this movie many times since 1990. I’ve bought it in various formats, and recently got myself a terrific Blu-ray edition – bare bones, but beautiful and pristine. Even though I’m over-familiar with the tale, I weep like great big baby each and every time.

It’s embarrassing, really, but anything that moves me the way that ‘Cyrano de Bergerac’ does is too powerful for me to ignore: not only does it make me cry, but it makes me laugh, dream, gush. It inspires me, makes me feel alive, creates a space where I can forget myself.

And be, for a moment, someone else.

‘Cyrano de Bergerac”, for those unfamiliar with this French classic (both the play and this motion picture), takes place in 17th century France. Our hero is a man who lives by a code of honour, living large, frequently putting aside his own welfare for that of others.

He dreams of only one thing for himself, love, but believes that his massive nose is a deformity that no woman could ever bear to gaze upon. He believes himself unloveable, having been unloved by his own mother, and he aches for that which he misses the most.

The woman he has an eye for, Roxane, is his cousin. She is unaware of his interest and, one day, she asks him to watch over Christian, a young soldier who is now in his regiment – a man she has a crush on. Torn, Cyrano feels obligated to protect her interests; he befriends Christian.

Christian is as striking as Roxane is, but he is incredibly shy, incapable of speaking to women. To help the two lovers connect, and to finally be able to speak his own heart to Roxane, Cyrano decides to write letters for Christian to sign and send to her.

As “Christian”, Cyrano can finally breathe: he can be Roxane’s suitor, be the man he always wanted to be. Although he is invisible, the words remain his and he can pour his soul into each letter with an astounding frequency. And he can make her swoon, make her fall in love.

Even though Christian collects on Cyrano’s efforts, becomes the focus of Roxane’s attention and affection, Cyrano remains undaunted; at great cost to himself, he helps the two lovers unite, preventing outside forces from breaking them apart.

Cyrano is an imperfect creature, but his intentions are good. He faces life boldly, face forward, despite the nose he considers an infirmity. He doesn’t let even the biggest hurdles prevent him from reaching his goals. He is brave, strong, intelligent, creative, witty.

Gérard Depardieu incarnates Cyrano exquisitely. If not for one or two readings, and his girth (which seems inappropriate for the part), I would say that it was the role he was meant to play. As far as I’m concerned, it is one of the most brilliant performances in cinematic history. He’s that good.

Depardieu has always had great range, but in ‘Cyrano de Bergerac’ he was obligated to tap into many sides of himself. On the one hand Cyrano can be a fiery demon, the other a crumbling flower. He is impervious to outside harm, just as internal pain is hobbling him. Depardieu navigates between those two extremes with ease.

Meanwhile, he is joined by Anne Brochet as Roxane and Vincent Perez as Christian.

Roxane starts of as a seemingly precious, vain, self-absorbed individual. She has a crush on Christian because of his appearance, and can see nothing else. When she begins to receive “his” letters, she falls in love with their poetry and can’t bear it when Christian speaks for himself, as his his words are no match for Cyrano’s.

I always found Roxane to be a poor candidate for Cyrano’s affection, but she redeems herself: she eventually falls in love with his essence, not with Christian’s beauty. Over time, Christian’s appearance becomes irrelevant, and Cyrano’s heart is all that she wants – she just doesn’t know it.

Plus which, on a couple of counts, she displays her intelligence by contriving to keep Christian out of the war, her own bravery by crossing through enemy territory just to bring Cyrano’s regiment some food and drink, and her utter devotion to her love. She wasn’t a flighty person after all.

Brochet did everything perfectly with the part. I didn’t find that her presence held up to Depardieu’s, but it’s quite likely that this is impossible, given the material he got to work with. Still, she was delicate when she needed to be, sharp when needed, and feisty when the time was right.

Vincent Perez couldn’t be better as Christian. Christian is frequently played as a dim-wit on stage, but Perez imbues him with a dignity that helps to make him a great companion for Cyrano. The scene in which he takes on Cyrano face to face could have shown his ignorance, but the way Perez played him made him audacious. His chief weakness is to be under Roxane’s spell.

But such is the approach that was taken with this adaptation of Cyrano de Bergerac: to make the trio stronger, to bolster the play by relocating sequences that were all jammed together on stage and didn’t make sense contextually, and filling in the moments that were only suggested at in the play with imagery that filled in the blanks.

At no point did they change the order of scenes, or added anything that wasn’t already in the text – they merely translated the material seamlessly to the screen. Similarly, they removed about 400 verses from the original play, removing repetition, but not content. Frankly, I read the play a few years ago and, aside from one small scene that goes missing, couldn’t even tell. This is how surgically the filmmakers put together this picture.

And it couldn’t have been easy: the play was written in Alexandrines, which means that each line is written in twelve syllables and rhyme. The original work is absolutely brilliant, because the characters’ dialogues combine to make these verses flow and the rhymes are smoothly hidden in the exchanges, giving it a mellifluous quality that may not be entirely apparent at first.

(as a side-note, one of the English-language translations was put together by Anthony Burgess, a linguist whose understanding of language was used to such brilliant effect in his novel ‘A Clockwork Orange’ and in the stone age language devised for Jean-Jacques Annaud’s ‘La guerre du feu’. I’m not sure if all DVDs have his subtitles, but they are exceptional – he actually attempted to keep original author Rostang’ style in his translation. Brilliant.)

Even the motion picture score by Jean-Claude Petit is total candy. It’s all period music, including luscious orchestrations and a combination of bombastic and lovely themes; it’s distinctive without being especially showy. I have had the CD for decades and it has been played more often than many of my other soundtracks; it’s a clear favourite of mine.

All this to say that ‘Cyrano de Bergerac’ doesn’t get any better than this for me. I can’t give it a perfect score, because I don’t believe there is such a thing. There are transitions and readings that could have been marginally better, so I couldn’t possibly give it a perfect 10.

But it is a cinematic experience that gives me full-body laughs even as it makes my heart ache, makes me weep. ‘Cyrano de Bergerac’ is a gorgeous film that taps into my tortured soul and soothes it in many ways, on a deeper level than anything else that I can think of.

For me, it’s ‘Cyrano’ forever and always.

Date of viewing: April 24, 2013

4 responses to “Cyrano de Bergerac

  1. Pingback: Roxanne | thecriticaleye·

  2. Pingback: The Fall | thecriticaleye·

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