Jean-Paul Rappeneau’s CYRANO DE BERGERAC is a lyrical masterpiece. The $17 million adaptation of Edmond Rostand’s classic play is rich in setting, costumes, cinematography, and stunning in its selection of the noted French actor, Gerard Depardieu, for the lead role.
Set in 17th century France, the film’s story line is a grand romantic tragedy well-known and well-loved by millions. Cyrano, imbued with wit, charm and depth of soul, but deprived of handsomeness by virtue of his enormous nose, falls in love with the charming Roxanne.
Alas, the handsome, dashing young Christian de Neuvillette is equally smitten by the young lady’s beauty and demeanor. The catch is that Christian lacks the verbal skills to woo her, so he uses Cyrano’s finesse with the language, but signs his name to the letters in order to win Roxanne for himself. The irony of the tale is that Roxanne falls for the depth and beauty contained in the letters and declares to the confused Christian that she loves him for his soul, not his appearance, and would love him even if he were ugly.
Christian is killed in the battle of Arras (filmed on location in Hungary), and, for 14 years, Cyrano carefully guards the secret of the letters to protect Christian’s memory. The final scene of the film reveals the truth, however, as Cyrano is fatally wounded on his way to his weekly visit with Roxanne. The resolution of this unrequited love story is one of the greatest moments in the history of drama.
The themes of fidelity, nobility and love weave wonderfully throughout the picture, which is awash with the beauty of the original French, aptly sub-titled by the English author Anthony Burgess. There is nothing objectionable in language or scene — only the sweeping majesty of the French and Hungarian countryside and the fierceness of love and commitment that is so lacking in most films these days. The film is beautifully recommended for lovers of all ages, especially those who like period pieces and enjoy foreign films.
The artful direction and acting make it a moving experience and inevitably uplifting, as we see the depth and incredible sacrifice inherent in Cyrano’s devotion. Love and beauty, one sees, are graces of the soul, not of the eye.
We would do well in our 20th century cynicism to re-acquaint ourselves with the values of an earlier era, when love, fidelity and honor were held in high esteem. Director Rappeneau is to be congratulated for his selection of Rostand’s masterwork. It adds much grace and intelligence to the films of 1990.