Written by: John White on January 2nd, 2006
Theatrical Release Date: France, 1990
Director: Jean-Paul Rappeneau
Cast: Gerard Depardieu, Vincent Perez, Anne Brochet, Jacques Weber
DVD released: October 31, 2005
Approximate running time: 138 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Sound: Dolby Digital 5.1 (French)
DVD Release: Second Sight
Region Coding: Region 2 PAL
Retail Price: £19.99
Cyrano (Depardieu) is in love with his cousin, Roxane (Brochet), and will do anything for her bar telling her how he feels for fear of ridicule. Whilst in the act of fighting off one of her admirers, Cyrano learns Roxane wishes to speak with him and starts to believe she may return his love. He celebrates by taking on 100 men of the Comte de Guiche (Weber) and confirming de Guiche as an enemy of his. When he sees Roxane she tells him that she is in love – gulp – and that it is a soldier – gulp – in Cyrano’s regiment – double gulp – called Christian (Perez) – damn. Cyrano agrees to befriend his new recruit and finds that Christian in matters of love is “a brainless fool”. Cyrano hits upon the idea of coaching Christian and of writing his letters for him and soon Roxane is falling for this “wondrous soul” – consequently Cyrano can win Roxane‘s heart without her repudiating his ugliness. De Guiche has his own ideas for Roxane and plans revenge on Cyrano.
It is hard not to gush about Jean Paul Rappeneau’s film. It is the film I have seen most at the cinema and one that I have watched to death on the old Tartan UK release. So I won’t pretend to be objective. It is a masterpiece. The play from which the film is adapted is probably the most famous on the planet outside of Shakespeare and the success of this film starts with the adaptation in the screenplay. Jean Claude Carriere and Rappeneau boil the play down to the line – “My life’s work has been to prompt others”. Cyrano becomes a story of noble sacrifice with Cyrano daring not to believe his love could be requited and so settling for the second best of romance through the proxy of Christian. The writing also deals with the central question of Roxane, in other adaptations she is simply a love object – insipid and precieuse. Here Roxane is seen as a woman of great depth, fidelity and initiative – a woman to inspire devotion. Similarly, Christian is no longer a buffoon but a dumbstruck lover.
There is a silent partner in the writing for any English audience, Anthony Burgess. The writer of a Clockwork Orange provides the English translation of the complex rhyming verse and it is frequently beautiful and always wholly in tune with the romance of the images – “My nose precedes me by 15 minutes”, “A tear on this nose that would be unforgivable”. Rappeneau presents Cyrano with as much action as he can find and even injects comedy new to the source – the scene in the monastery where Monks are playfully chasing one another is one example. Way before filming, Rappeneau had cast Depardieu. And that is the best decision that he made on this film. Depardieu is marvellous; he combines physicality with a tenderness of voice and gesture that no actor could match. When delivering his dying speech, Depardieu’s conviction is unshakable but full of pathos – in a scene that most actors would have underplayed, Depardieu opts to show this passionate man killing himself for an unrequited love only to find that she could have loved him
Cyrano De Bergerac is a tremendous production, an excellent adaptation, and a bravura performance. It combines the brilliant verse of the stage play with the sweep of action cinema. It is unforgettable.
I was really looking forward to this film finally getting the DVD release it deserves. The previous Tartan disc was a cold transfer of a poor print with burned in subs and lousy sound. The Second Sight release continues their tradition of choosing great films to not quite succeed with. Their disc of Un Coeur en Hiver is clearly a fine print but was transferred poorly and pressed onto a low capacity DVD-5. Here they have provided an anamorphic transfer in correct aspect ratio with far warmer colours that the previous release on a DVD-9. However, there is grain in many sequences and particularly the sequence in the bakery between Roxane and Cyrano which is worse than the previous release. This is a tragedy as this is the finest scene in the movie. the film also has noticeable discolouration on the right hand side of the picture throughout.
The sound is 5.1 and is very acceptable and suits the battle scenes especially. The subtitles are wonderful – the work of Burgess.
The extras on the disc consist of three interviews. One with the Director talking about the influence of a silent film version of the play on his movie, one with Depardieu struggling with English to talk about how he doesn’t like the play, and finally one from the writer about the preparation of the film. All three interviews are interesting, but Carriere is a very interesting interviewee and particularly insightful here.
Overall, this is an improvement upon the Tartan UK release and according to the reviews I have read is an improvement on the R4 disc previously thought to be the best English language presentation of the film. It is far from perfect, but you should own this film and this is the least bad way to do so.