Jean-Paul Rappeneau (director)
24 February 2020 (released)
15 March 2020
In this sumptuous adaptation of Edmond Rostand’s classic play, French ‘national treasure’ Gérard Depardieu slips into the role of a swashbuckling hero with a talent for verse, hopelessly in love with his cousin Roxane but to shy to express his feelings due to his rather prominent nose.
Indeed, Cyrano unashamedly announces: “My nose proceeds me by fifteen minutes!”
He pretends to be proud of his hooter though deep down he’s very insecure, especially whenever his cousin Roxane (Anne Brochet) appears on the horizon. The first half an hour or so is set in the world of theatre where Cyrano manages to delight and annoy folks in equal measure and falls foul of one individual in particular with whom he ends up having a duel. While all this derring-do is going on Roxane, in attendance to see a play, only seems to have eyes for the dashing Christian de Neuvillette (Vincent Perez), a new recruit to the Cadets des Gascogne - the very military unit in which Cyrano also happens to serve. Christian too seems besotted with Roxane (much to Cyrano’s chagrin) but, unlike our unlikely hero, possesses zero talent for poetry or penning love letters, let alone express himself in an eloquent manner. Far from it, whenever Roxane is near he simply turns timid. Certain that the lovely maid would never return his feelings due to his physical flaw – his large nose –Cyrano nonetheless sees his chance of declaring his love for Roxane… through Christian! Writing love letters and composing poetry for him which the hapless Christian then recites standing underneath Roxane’s balcony (cue for some funny scenes), the charming dame thinks all her dreams have come true and she finally found Prince Charming. What a disappointment when she and Christian meet for a rendezvous and the tongue-tied lad is as useless as ever when it comes to expressing his feelings!
Meanwhile, the nasty and scheming nobleman Comete de Guiche (Jacques Weber) fancies Roxane for himself. Knowing full well he doesn’t stand a chance in hell, he summons the inexperienced Christian to fight in the Siege of Arras against the Spanish… aware that only hours earlier, Christian and Roxane did secretly tie the knot. At least Cyrano is with the military unit, continuing to write love letters to Roxane who of course believes they are from her beloved. As the merciless fighting goes on, the Cadets are soon counting the wounded, the dead, or fall ill from exhaustion and hunger. After receiving another poetic love letter Roxane, dressed in male attire, leaves Paris to visit Christian and bring much appreciated delicacies for the starving Cadets. The joy is short-lived however as the Spanish draw closer. During the ensuing battle Christian is fatally wounded. Having made sure that the heart-broken Roxane is ushered to safety, Cyrano manages to fight off the Spanish and the French win the battle.
The story then jumps forward and it’s now fourteen years since the Siege of Arras and the untimely death of Christian. Cyrano still harbours strong feelings for his grief-stricken cousin who has entered a convent. Throughout all that time he has never revealed his true feeling for her. However, he did succeed in making plenty of enemies thanks to his writings satirising the nobility. This in turn results in a cowardly attempt on his life involving a wooden beam during which he sustains a head injury that would prove fatal. As Cyrano visits Roxane in the convent for the last time, she initially fails to recognise he’s mortally wounded. Indulging in conversation she asks him to read out loud a certain letter… it is Christian’s last letter to her which she kept with her all those years. Only when Cyrano begins reciting the letter without looking at it does Roxane finally realise it was her cousin all along who composed the love letters. When she confesses her feelings for him it is too late. Cyrano collapses and dies from his head wound, declaring that soon he will join the likes of fellow thinkers and writers in space.
Anthony Burgess (‘A Clockwork Orange’) was responsible for the English-language translation of the text. No easy task, given the fact that the text uses five-beat lines and a regular couplet rhyming scheme. The performances are to be applauded (as are the splendid costumes and the impressive cinematography courtesy of Pierre Lhomme) but this is Depardieu’s film and easily his finest hour – flitting from wit to pathos with ease.
For his performance he won the ‘Best Actor’ award at the 1990 Cannes Film Festival and rightly so! All in all CYRANO DE BERGERAC was nominated for 13 César Awards (it won 10) and to celebrate the film 30th anniversary the BFI has just released it in glorious Blu-ray format, with additional Bonus features.