I wonder what he's gazing upwards for: is there a dragon
coming for him?
dir: Joe Wright
When I first heard they were remaking this story for the nth time, I was like “ugh, no, so unnecessary.”
We have enough great versions of it already. Well, we have two at least. We have the black and white one from 1950 with Jose Ferrer, and the 1990 one with Gerard Depardieu in the lead role, which I remember watching in the cinema, and loved ever since, having bought it on VHS tape(!) and watched it stacks and stacks of times.
And then on DVD and Blu-Ray. What better film could hit the sweet spot for a pathetic “romantic” like me? A guy spends a whole film pining after a woman, sending her thousands of heartfelt, deftly spun letters enumerating all the ways in which he loves her, for her only to find out and return her love seconds before he dies? This is like the Olympics of unrequited love; it’s absolutely perfect!
That way he never actually had to keep her happy, listen to her as a person and relate to her, or argue over who did which chores or whose turn it was to get the baby back to sleep.
At the time (the 1990s) it never occurred to me that what Cyrano does is a terrible thing. Even with his stated all-consuming love for Roxanne (his cousin, I might add, in that earlier version), he is essentially catfishing her into loving a handsome jerk without a thought in his head, who she then spends the rest of her life pining over until… Cyrano shows her he was the seducer at the balcony and the letter writer all along. And then dies, so she spends the rest of her days now pining over someone who could write a mean letter but had a larger than considered average nose.
Australia’s Own Fred Schepisi was made to direct a version of this old story back in the 80s, and thought “Comedy hijinks will ensue!” Steve Martin wrote a screenplay with himself as “C.D.” the lead and with the idea of completely changing it from a romantic tragedy to a romantic comedy where only a few feelings are hurt. Similarly it has a much older guy pining over a younger woman, like all these multifarious versions do.
And people loved Roxanne, didn’t they? I still watch it when flicking through the channels and it appears, possibly on a Friday night, possibly after a few drinks.
The heart and soul of that film, though, isn’t C.D’s love for Roxanne: it’s Shelly Duvall’s characters’ love for C.D, that goes ever unrequited.
And I’m sure there’s plenty of other versions as well. This one though, instead of getting some actor and whacking a prosthetic nose on them, keeps the entire premise the same, but changes the character to someone else. Something else.
It’s so obviously great as an idea: Cyrano being played by Peter Dinklage. If there’s still any goodwill leftover for Dinklage after all the heavy lifting he did for all those years on Game of Thrones, as Tyrion Lannister, possibly the best male character on the show, it should totally carry over to here. A big difference is that while Tyrion sometimes wore armour and was at battles, they never went so far as to make him a warrior.
Cyrano is a swordsman, though, so Dinklage gets to be the swashbuckler here he never got to be on that show that made him famous, People are always trying to kill Cyrano, but that’s only because they hate how cool he is.
However feisty he might be with his rapier, though, however witty his verbal battles with the aristocrats or the theatre elite, it’s not enough for him to transcend his insecurity over his height. So though he battles to prove his worth to Roxanne (Haley Bennett), his oldest friend from childhood, it doesn’t ever let him think that she could love someone of his stature.
So he’ll go on pining for her forever. Until she confesses that she’s in love.
With someone she just saw, that night, at the theatre.
Someone who’s clearly not Cyrano. Nor is it the odious duke (Ben Mendelsohn) who seeks to marry her despite being, ugh, so gross.
I should mention that, when that first song starts, your heart might sink like mine did – I foolishly entered into this not realising that this is a musical! They sing of wanting to be loved, to love, to be overwhelmed with love, but I was wondering what the fuck I did to deserve this.
I have not spontaneously developed any lingering affection for musicals despite my exposure to them. In the last bunch of years I saw okay ones and some which I couldn’t sit through, could not stomach or endure. I cannot pretend I loved most of the songs here. At best they were mostly okay. Bennett and Dinklage have okay voices, but they are not great singers. And the songs themselves…vary in quality.
I think I read somewhere that the songs were written by the twin Dessner brothers from The National, a band I quite like, and Dinklage’s wife Erica Schmidt wrote the screenplay for this musical.
All I’m saying is, don’t blame Peter Dinklage or Hayley Bennett. They give perfect performances as the central duo of lovebirds who never get together, and I bought all of their scenes together, or apart.
The guy who plays Christian, though? He’s fine. It’s unfair to say this, but the Christian role is a bimbo, himbo role. In every iteration of this story Christian is hot, looks nothing like Cyrano, and is generally pretty dumb, though he does figure out two things: if Cyrano keeps doing his thing, Christian might get to have sex with Roxanne, and eventually, he figures out that the guy who writes thousands of letters on Christian’s seeming behalf might actually genuinely love Roxanne.
Big if true. This version is sweet enough, without the callousness or boorishness of some versions of Christian. Kelvin Harrison Jnr also has a decent voice (dare I say even better than Dinklage?), and has a great choreographed scene with the other soldiers of their regiment at their barracks. Those uniforms though…
I didn’t mention it’s a period piece, set in the time I guess it was originally written. It’s set in 1600s France, and there is a war going on with Spain, though thankfully no-one throughout the flick speaks French or Spanish.
When the repugnant duke decides to punish Roxanne for not putting out by sending the men she cares about away to war, we who sadly know the story know that the time for hope is over, and that perhaps this version will hew closer to the original tragedy rather than a more crowd pleasing route.
In this version at least Christian comes to realise how terrible their deception of Roxanne is, or has become, how dishonest, and how unfair to her, and he implores Cyrano to tell her, whether Christian survives the Siege of Arras or not.
It’s funny, as well, to watch the performance of this character. So perplexing. Risking his own life just to send her one more letter pledging his love, risking his life to protect Christian from his fate, only because he knows how sad it would make Roxanne. Is there an added poignancy to Cyrano here, being so unable to accept the idea that Roxanne might ever have loved him for who he is, despite his height? It certainly gives the character a different quality, maybe it adds something stronger to the narrative.
It makes those other versions with Jose Ferrer, Gerard and Steve Martin look a bit foolish, in retrospect. They’re just arrogant jerks with the souls of poets but larger than average noses.
Men too blind to see how much certain women would put up with just to be honestly loved.
The scene in the 90s version where Cyrano tells Roxanne, or shows her, that it was him writing all along, occurs 14 fucking years after the Siege of Arras. Fourteen fucking years of Roxanne in a convent, mourning the loss of the greatest man she thinks has ever lived.
There were times when I watched that ending, even with tears in my eyes, where I wondered why Roxanne didn’t stab Cyrano herself for what he put her through, even if he was already dying.
In this version, it’s three years later after Christian’s death. I guess three years doesn’t feel like as much of a brutal deception. But the ending is the same; it’s the only ending this should have, could have, and be true to itself.
I did enjoy this version, I would happily watch it again. I perhaps didn’t find it as moving as the 1990s one, but at least I have more positive feelings towards Dinklage than I have to muster towards Depardieu, who we now know was abusive, sexually or otherwise, towards many of the women he’s worked with over the decades. Something which means I won’t watch new stuff he’s in, but, c’mon on, that’s such a great film.
It’s not like I’m saying we should go watch Manhattan or anything. This is really solid for what it is. Bennett lights up the screen in every scene she’s in, and Dinklage owns the character so completely, conveys so much with little effort, shows so palpably how terrible loving someone so blindly and completely is for the soul.
None of this shit is healthy, you know. That’s what I understand and sympathise with now, but didn’t get back then: that this romantic hero was really the villain, and doomed three people to misery. Far better to love from afar, shut the fuck up about it, but still live a meaningful life with the people around you. It’s not as sexy, there aren’t songs written and sung by Matt Berninger over the end credits about it, but it sure hurts less people.
Still, there was much for me to love here. I think my favourite song was the one that starts before the siege, where Glen Hansard, of The Frames, Once and Swell Season fame, sings about loving someone and soon dying, as a soldier, and that heaven will be wherever he falls, that touched me the most. And it was nice to see him again! Been a while.
7 ways in which Cyrano is a story old as time that should end with more stabbings out of 10
“My dearest friend, I will be very angry with you if you die.” – if only Death could be delayed thusly - Cyrano