Saturday, October 19, 2019

Cyrano, My Love

I just saw Cyrano, My Love, a wonderful new movie written and directed by Alexis Michalik that imagines how Edmond Rostand might have come to write his classic play Cyrano de Bergerac.

Theresa Rebeck gave her own account of Cyrano's creation in Bernhardt/Hamlet, one of my favorite plays to open in New York last year. Michalik's take is not as psychologically believable, but it's not supposed to be. Instead, it is a wild, theatrical romp through the backstage shenanigans of what was predicted to be a disaster, but ended up becoming one of the most beloved plays of the French theatre.

Thomas Solivérès plays Rostand, a neo-romantic poet whose recent play La Princesse Lointaine was a flop in spite of starring the divine actress Sarah Bernhardt. He sets out to write a play for the comic actor Constant Coquelin (played by Olivier Gourmet), who has his own troubles with the Comédie-Française. While Coquelin tries to sell the play to backers, there's only one problem: it isn't written yet.

In scenes reminiscent of Shakespeare in Love, Rostand stumbles upon the inspiration he needs. This is largely with help from a young costumer who becomes his muse, even though (as in Cyrano) she thinks she is in love with a handsome actor whose letters to her are all penned by Rostand. Sometimes we get scenes right out of the play, only performed by Rostand and his contemporaries in the film. And speaking of film, a short by the Méliès brothers even makes an appearance, leading Rostand to despair that the theatre itself might soon become obsolete.

Much of the fun of Cyrano, My Love comes from brief appearances of historical figures of the era, including a consumptive Anton Chekov, waiting patiently downstairs at a Paris brothel while a certain Constantin is indulging with one of the hostesses. The movie also makes Rostand frenemies with the farce writer Georges Feydeau, who is shown getting ready to open another crowd pleaser as Cyrano is also in rehearsals. Indeed, the movie at times seems more like a crazy Feydeau farce than the love-sick heroic comedy that made Rostand famous.

None of that really matters, though, since the film is so delightful. When Cyrano first opened at the Théâtre de la Porte Saint-Martin in 1897, the audience called the actors back for curtain call after curtain call, and when I saw the movie at the Angelika Film Center, the audience likewise burst into applause. If you get a chance to see it, you won't be disappointed.