It’s been almost exactly one month since I’ve written a movie review for this blog (and it was likely nearly a month before that review). I saw The Hunger Games with a friend here in NYC, but for the last month and a half, the movies I’ve had at home from Netflix have been gathering dust in my living room. That changes today. I’ve got three films at home (Cyrano de Bergerac, The Butcher Boy, and 1776). By this evening’s end, I will have watched all of them. I’m going to get work done tonight. If the initial film in the series is any indication, it should be a great night. The 1990 adaptation of Edmond Rostand’s play,Cyrano de Bergerac, starring French film icon Gerard Depardieu was an enchanting and faithful adaptation of its source material with a mesmerizing performance from Depardieu as the legendary warrior/poet/philosopher/lover. While the film certainly dragged at moments, the lavish production values kept their hooks in me from start to finish and as my formal introduction to the story, I couldn’t have asked for a better way too see this tragic tale for the first time.
In 17th century France, Cyrano de Bergerac (Gerard Depardieu) longs for the love of his beautiful cousin Roxane (Anne Brochet). Cyrano is more intelligent and eloquent than any man in France, and at the beginning of the film, he fights off nearly a hundred men all by himself. He can afford to throw his money away to appease a theatre when he threatens to disembowel a play’s star for ruining the good name of thespians everywhere. But Cyrano’s enormous nose (which makes Nicole Kidman’s nose in The Hours look relatively modest) has crippled his self-esteem and he believes that he will never be able to win the heart of his beloved cousin. When Cyrano has finally worked up the courage to tell Roxane how he feels, she confesses her love for a local soldier, Christian (Vincent Perez), and because Cyrano wishes to put the happiness of hisamour ahead of his own desires, he secretly helps the dim-witted Christian woo Roxanne. Ghost-writing all of Christian’s letters to Roxanne, Cyrano helps his cousin fall in love with his words but another man all as our star-crossed trio hurtle towards a tragic end.
I’m not generally a huge fan of period costume dramas. They tend to put too much focus on the “costume” and “period” parts of that equation rather than the actual drama, and while Cyrano de Bergerac might suffer from this a little bit, it’s only because of how exquisitely detailed the period material is. The film is gorgeously shot. It wasn’t until half-way through that I realized this film was made in the 1990s because it had an ephemeral air of classical film technique that I would have placed in the 1970s. While I realize I just complained about people paying too much attention to the period production, it was so engrossing in this film that you couldn’t help but revel in it. Whether it was the seemingly endless array of expertly constructed costumes which represented the diverse beauty of 17th century French fashion or the elaborately orchestrated action sequences, it was obvious that this film was given the budget to truly be a spectacle, but it used these moments to enhance the tragic love story at the center of the film rather than distract. My only complaint about the film’s technical aspects is that Cyrano’s nose might have in fact been too large because it was almost at the point of parody when Depardieu’s naturally large nose could have nearly done the trick.
I’ve only reviewed one other Gerard Depardieu film for this blog (La Chevre), and I’ve only seen one other Depardieu film outside of the context of this blog (The Man in the Iron Mask). After watching Cyrano de Bergerac, I finally understand why he’s one of the premier stars of the French screen. His performance was incendiary, deeply funny, surprisingly vulnerable, and ultimately human. There’s a lot of talking in this movie. It’s based off a play so that shouldn’t be shocking, but even by drama standards, the people in this film never shut up. Yet, I could listen to Depardieu sputter line after line of Cyrano’s triumphant wit if he’s going to make it all seem so fun while doing it. With the exception of his vanity over his looks, Cyrano is such a powerhouse of a character that it would be easy for an actor to overplay his wit, valor, or charisma or on the other hand to make him too much of a pitiable figure. Depardieu tapped right into the perfect balance of all of Cyrano’s characteristics to make a hero that you wanto root for but at the same time, he plays him with just the right amount of being a jack-ass that is so clearly written into the character. The beautiful Anne Brochet was also a gem as Roxane who was the only person mentally equipped to go toe-to-toe with Cyrano.
If I have a major complaint with the film, it ultimately goes back to the source material. For a play written in the late 1800s, the story seems to beholden to the tragic drama archetype of Shakespearean plays like Romeo & Juliet or Hamlet. It’s not that I’m not a fan of tragedies (King Lear is probably my favorite story of all time), but drama was finally starting to become a little more complicated and ambitious by the time that Rostand wrote the play. I was able to foresee virtually every single plot point from the moment that Roxane attempted to beguile Comte DeGuiche with her womanly ways in order to keep Cyrano and Christian from being sent away to war. Being predictable isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but all in all, there was a considerable feeling of having seen some variation of the tragic romance at the core of the story many, many times before. There were certainly plenty of great scenes though. When Cyrano tries to feed lines to Christian to woo Roxane from her terrace and he suddenly has to speak to her himself under the cover of darkness, my heart was legitimately moved at the heartbreak of Cyrano’s unrequited love and the doom I knew was going to fall before long. However, the film’s (and the play’s) biggest problem is its ending which drags on at least ten minutes longer than it should have and robs the otherwise touching moment of any meaning because it ends up so absurd and unbelievable.
I was telling a friend of mine from work about my movie blog last night a concert I was covering and that fact along with the simple truth that I hadn’t watched one of my movies from Netflix in two months has inspired this little resurgence of the movies in my blog. Considering the fact that the first 5o posts or so were only movies, it’s kind of absurd that I ever go long stretches like this without reviewing a film. Yet it manages to happen every so often. The next two movies are a musical (starring Mr. Feeney from Boy Meets World) and a very, very dark Irish comedy (directed by Neil Jordan so I hope it’s as good as Michael Collins). I’m just hoping that this little spurt of inspiration will get me back on track to start reviewing all of the films that were nominated for Best Picture at this year’s Academy Awards. I was halfway done when my initiative and drive died on me. Let’s hope I get back on that wagon again.
Final Score: B+