An Alternative Guide to Great Movies: Cyrano de Bergerac (1990)
- Credit: Archant
Movies that tell a good story and have engaging characters provide that all-important re-watch value necessary for a great film. Arts editor Andrew Clarke presents a series of idiosyncratic suggestions for movies which may entertain if you are in the mood for something different
Cyrano de Bergerac; dir: Jean-Paul Rappeneau; starring: Gerard Depardieu, Anne Brochet, Vincent Perez; Cert: U (1990)
It may be a little hard to believe now but Cyrano de Bergerac, a foreign language film, starring the larger-than-life Gerard Depardieu was one of the most-talked about cinema hits of 1990.
A beautifully made, French period drama, with a wonderfully charismatic central performance from Depardieu and a witty, engaging screenplay, provided audiences with a genuine cross-over hit which proved that sometimes foreign language films can also be popular at the box office.
What makes Cyrano de Bergerac such a great is the fact that it is unashamedly romantic – not in a sentimental way but in a gallant, heartfelt manner which blends fairytale romance with a real world sensibility.
Cyrano is a rough, tough soldier with a reputation for bravery and for having a very short temper. He is well regarded by the army for his daring feats in battle and for his skill as a swordsman but, socially, he is awkward, fearful that his looks may drive away the woman he loves.
It is revealed that Cyrano is head over heels in love with his cousin Roxanne (Anne Brochet) but feels that his large nose would make him a laughing stock if he ever proposed. Unaware of Cyrano’s infatuation Roxanne confesses her love for a young recruit, Christian de Neuvillette (Vincent Perez) and asks Cyrano to keep an eye on him.
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Unsurprisingly Christian turns out to be rather dim but Roxanne finds it hard to see past his pretty-boy looks. Although it pains him Cyrano decides to honour his promise to his cousin and help his inarticulate fellow soldier win Roxanne’s heart.
For Christian, love is an insincere game but we, as an audience, get to see and appreciate the virtues of Cyrano especially when compared to Christian’s shallowness. Against his better judgement he agrees to help Christian win Roxanne’s heart by ghost-writing poems and love letters and by feeding him romantic dialogue as the young lovers try their own Romeo and Juliet style balcony scene.
Christian is an idiot and Cyrano is forced to resort to impersonating his rival so that the romantic mood is not destroyed. The great swordsman doesn’t fear enemies on the battlefield but he is terrified of this literate and perceptive woman.
“There is nothing I fear more than her laughter,” he admits.
Director Jean-Paul Rappeneau is a master at scenes like this and blends humour and tragic pathos with great skill. But, this love affair by proxy is not the only thing going on and Cyrano finds himself embroiled in an intrigue at court which will have serious repercussions.
Cyrano de Bergerac is a gorgeous film to look at. Rappeneau gives the visuals a painterly quality, the colours are rich and the lurking shadows provide atmosphere and a sense of brooding danger. He also directs with a light touch and allows the witty dialogue to zip along. There are several laugh-out-loud moments which, when you are reading the lines rather than hearing them, is a sure indication of how good the script is.
But, the film is Depardieu’s. His barn-storming performance powers the film along. His Cyrano is both bombastic and vulnerable. He’s a rough, tough guy who is quick to anger particularly when people draw attention to his large nose. The scenes in the barracks early in the film give you a clear idea of the sort of man he is. One of his comrades jokes: “Using a handkerchief puts you in a coffin”.
But, the flipside of his personality is that he has a romantic heart and a way with words. It’s interesting to see that Christian is also a man of honour because during the siege of Arras, when they are fighting the Spanish, Christian realises that Roxanne loves Cyrano, although she doesn’t know it, and that if he pursues his dalliance with her then he would be betraying his friend.
Rappeneau has created a film which is full of energy thanks to his quick-cutting, the believable but still larger-than-life performances from the cast and the sense of elegance and style which permeates its way through the whole movie.
The battle scenes are spectacular but, unlike a Hollywood movie, not the central focus of the movie. This is a film about love, celebrating a love of language, about being yourself and learning to be comfortable in your own skin. It has lessons for us all and is delivered in the most entertaining way.