By: Jolie Featherstone
Edmond Rostand’s classic tale Cyrano de Bergerac is reimagined in Joe Wright’s elegant and atmospheric adaptation of Erica Schmidt’s stage musical Cyrano.
Rostand’s tale is universal. It muses on society’s tendency to prize the outer above the inner. It tells us how true love and attraction is based on meeting a kindred soul, but we will only find that true love if we are able to overcome our limiting and superficial views. The deeply human and universal nature of this tale has earned it a prized place among long-beloved historical treasures and literary curriculums. Rostand’s words in Cyrano de Bergerac are undoubtedly some of the most beautiful ever put to paper. The magnificence of Rostand’s words are brought to life in Joe Wright’s airily elegant world.
Having given us the modern classic Pride and Prejudice (2005) and the 2007’s Oscar-winning Atonement, Wright has established himself as a bonafide voice in the romantic-drama genre. Joe Wright’s romantic films glisten with longing, sensuality, and simmering passion. He has developed his own visceral language of love on film which he, happily, brings to Cyrano.
Wright’s Cyrano is based on Erica Schmidt’s stage adaptation of the famous tale. Peter Dinklage (Game of Thrones) was cast as the titular role during its stage run. He reprises his role here in Wright’s film. His casting brings a sharper edge to the role. In most Cyrano adaptations, the actor portraying the hero has donned prosthetics to enlarge their nose. In this case, Dinklage does not don prosthetics. Instead, Dinklage’s Cyrano exists in a society wherein people who are built differently than others are treated differently – much like our own current reality. Dinklage is wholly committed to the role. His eyes alone speak volumes. He moves deftly as Cyrano in all of his multitudes: the biting wit, the sensitive poet, the glorious guard and swordsman. Dinklage disappears into the role and brings a unique blend of world-weariness and buoyant earnestness to Cyrano.
Also reprising her role from the stage, Hayley Bennett is luminous in the role of Roxanne, the object of Cyrano’s affection. She brings a spiritedness to Roxanne that’s intoxicating. Bennett’s Roxanne is not just a beautiful doll to be looked at. She has verve and vigour. We can easily understand Cyrano’s longing for her. We yearn for them to be together.
A film so wholly about romance couldn’t have been more of a labour of love in the most literal sense of the words. Director Joe Wright and Hayley Bennett are partners. Writer Erica Schmidt and Peter Dinklage are married, as are Matt Berninger and Carin Besser who wrote the lyrics to the original songs. The music (by Aaron and Bryce Dressner of The National, who can also be seen in Mistaken for Strangers) and lyrics (by Berninger also of The National and his wife/frequent collaborator Besser) are gorgeously arranged and inject a modern feel to this timeless tale. The National’s music has appeared on many a love-lorn, heart-aching playlist. Such a pedigree serves them well for Cyrano. The songs are clearly modern which reinforces Wright’s choice to keep the film untethered to a strict time and place. His locations all appear untouched by time but do not offer explicit signifiers. This lends to the films’ lyrical, otherworldly beauty. Indeed, a song outside of the central romance called “Wherever I Fall” sung by the battle-beaten troops is hauntingly beautiful – balancing between the ancient and the new. Unfortunately, there are times in the film where the lyrics get lost in the overall sound mixing.
Cyrano has the makings of a classic fairytale. It balances soft, ethereal light with darkness and despair. Indeed, even in moments of shadow, the fight choreography is exquisitely done. Like all good fairytales, Cyrano visually plumbs the recesses and soars to the heights of primal human emotion.
Wright’s use of breath to ground the weightlessness of falling in love is poetic. From the moment that Roxanne and Christian first lay eyes on each other to the finale’s shattering exhale, this film wears it’s heart on its sleeve. This is not a film for even-keeled realism. This is a film for dreamers. If you can, see it on the big screen to immerse yourself in the visual and auditory majesty of this operatic romance.
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Jolie Featherstone: @TOFilmFiles