Cyrano de Bergerac

Cyrano de Bergerac

*****

Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

Cyrano's love for his cousin Roxanne (Anne Brochet) contains all the music and magic of dreams. He is renowned in the army for his feats of daring and disliked in society for his attacks on tradition. As a writer and swordsman he excels, but as a lover is fearful, because of his looks.

In the barracks no one dares mention it ("Using a handkerchief puts you in a coffin"). His gallantry and devotion to truth fails when it comes to his peculiar deformity. Nose jokes are invitations to a duel.

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Roxanne confesses her love for a young recruit, Christian de Neuvillette (Vincent Perez), who is handsome and a baron. She asks Cyrano to keep an eye on him and protect him. Cyrano agrees. When they meet, Christian taunts him in front of his cadets to show off his cheek.

Christian may be good looking, but he is prosaic and inarticulate, and what Roxanne needs is the spark of poetry to kindle her passion. Cyrano writes love letters from his heart and lets Christian deliver them, as if they are his. "There is nothing I fear more than her laughter," he admits, condoning the deception.

Whenever Christian sees Roxanne he can't keep his hands off her. She pushes him away, more interested in the lilt of his language. But he has no language. All he can say is, "I love you" and "I love you more," which is less than inspiring.

Cyrano arranges a midnight rendezvous under her balcony. Christian speaks the lines, prompted by Cyrano, until he fumbles them so badly that Cyrano snatches his hat and continues in his own voice, as lightning heralds the coming of a storm.

The greatest romance is unfulfilled. What lives in the imagination and is transposed through words has an influence far stronger than pure physicality. Roxanne knows this and falls in love with Christian's soul, as expressed in Cyrano's letters, and from his lips under the balcony on that night of the thunderstorm.

During the siege of Arras, where the army has been sent to fight the Spaniards, Christian realises that Roxanne loves Cyrano, although she doesn't know it, and that consummation of his passion is tantamount to treachery.

Jean-Paul Rappeneau has taken the spirit of Edmond Rostand's play and filled it to overflowing with energy, rumbustiousness, eloquence and panache. The film opens at the theatre amid scenes of boisterous anticipation, with Cyrano attacking the leading actor as a hypocrite, taunting the young bloods to fight, and ends in the solitude of a nunnery under the shadow of tall beech trees.

Gerard Depardieu is like a lion at bay, battling in the field of war, or against a hundred on a Parisian bridge. As well as fencing in the style of a Russian dancer, he tackles the tougher task of proxy lover and poet with equal conviction. It is a unique and tragic performance, containing the true essence of humility and courage.

The play is a paean to love, its force and foolishness. The film retains the best elements of romantic expression, with a large cast, all of whom leave their mark. Rappeneau has a light touch and a brilliant eye. Cyrano's sacrifice is Depardieu's triumph.

Reviewed on: 01 Nov 2005
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Superior retelling - in verse - of the classic romance.
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Director: Jean-Paul Rappeneau

Writer: Jean-Claude Carriere, Jean-Paul Rappeneau, based on the play by Edmond Rostand

Starring: Gerard Depardieu, Anne Brochet, Vincent Perez, Jacques Weber, Roland Bertin, Philippe Morier-Genoud, Pierre Maguelon

Year: 1990

Runtime: 137 minutes

BBFC: U - Universal

Country: France

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