Watching the new movie “Cyrano, My Love” it is easy to recall the Oscar-winning “Shakespeare in Love.” After all, the latter is a tale about Shakespeare and his troubles writing “Romeo and Juliet” and the former is a tale about Edmond Rostand writing “Cyrano de Bergerac.” Both works are comedies, both find the authors within each film having trouble putting words on the page, and both see the authors experiencing parts of their own plots.
These aren’t the only two films about the creation of other works, but the reasons why these two connect so well is made clear in the first question answered by the writer/director of “Cyrano, My Love,” Alexis Michalik, in the press kit for the film. Simply put, Michalik came up with this idea in 1999 when he saw “Shakespeare in Love” in a theater. They are similar because Michalik built his film to be so on purpose.
Truly funny from start to finish, ”Cyrano, My Love” stars Thomas Solivérès as Rostand; Oliver Gourmet as Coquelin, an actor who backs Rostand’s effort; Lucie Boujenah as Jeanne, the Rostand’s muse and the would-be lover of Léo Volny, an actor played by Tom Leeb and Alice de Lencquesaing as Rostand’s wife, Rosemonde. There is also the truly hysterical Jean-Michael Martial as the owner of a cafe where Rostand frequents. Even if the names are unknown to those here in the States, there will be no doubt for those who watch it, that every actor delivers a superb performance.
It is certainly not that the film is perfect—there are moments of the story that are cleared up far too easily—it is rather that from start to finish, the entire thing has an incredible sense of whimsy. This is true of the costumes and the sets and the fantastic score from Romain Trouillet. The whole affair is lighthearted even when Rostand is having his darkest moments.
Much in the same way that we all know that Shakespeare ends up writing “Romeo and Juliet” and therefore do not really fear for the outcome of the film, we know that Rostand writes “Cyrano de Bergerac” and don’t worry for him. Michalik, rather than making the end in doubt, just piles one lunacy on top of the next, which, whether they are true to history or not, seem both possible and incredibly far-fetched at the same time. Can Rostand possibly keep writing an act a night? Can his actors remember their lines in such a short span of rehearsal? What about the costumes and the sets and the play’s backers? It is a wondrous house of cards that Michalik builds.
The one card in the deck that threatens to have the entirety of the building crumble is the relationship between Rosemonde and Rostand. Rosemonde is worried for her husband and worried he is straying from her, if not physically than emotionally. Their marriage hits the rocks but—and this is a comedy so we all know it’s headed there—things are cleared up by the end. The exact nature of what alleviates the troubles though is rather murky. We know it is that Rostand’s play is a success, but that seems like very much an unwelcome example of the ends justifying the means. In other words, according to the film, Rosemonde should accept her husband’s wavering affections because he writes a great play. That is tragedy, not comedy, and Michalik never quite finds a way to satisfyingly draw it to a close.
Whimsy still carries the day, but the handling of this aspect of the story gives one pause. Surely if this were not the true history of what took place a better way to create/manage this plot could be developed.
I have not seen “Shakespeare in Love” for more than a decade at this point but, I do not recall enjoying it nearly as much as “Cyrano, My Love.” The former offers a plethora of wink-wink, nudge-nudge moments asking the viewer to consciously acknowledge the film’s intelligence (“Ha, he can’t possibly call the play ‘Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate’s Daughter!’ We all know where that ends up!… something for Twelfth Night! Ha! I get it!”), and I don’t feel that to the same degree in the latter. This may speak towards my missing obvious bits of French history; something getting lost in the subtitles; or it just generally being more clever. I choose to believe, perhaps erroneously, that it is the last of these.
That said, whatever the case may be, it is undoubtedly true that “Cyrano, My Love” is, and I’ll use this word again, a whimsical romp. It is a wonderfully lighthearted affair that only errs when it dares step into something serious. Opening this weekend, it is worth searching out.
photo credit: Roadside Attractions