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Made in 1923, Cyrano de Bergerac was the first film version ofFrench dramatist Edmond Rostand's timeless tragedy of the beautiful Roxanne(Linda Moglia) and the man who loves her anonymously - an expert swordsman more famous for his ugliness, which is accented by an enormous nose.
Cyrano de Bergerac was an Italian and French collaboration producedby the Unione Cinematographica Italia and released by the French-basedPathe studio. The film is set during the reign of Louis XIII in 1640 Parisand features the great Romantic hero, Cyrano de Bergerac (Pierre Magnier),as a valiant, brilliant and much admired Gascon guard who's as well known for hisskillful swordplay as for his rapier wit. In one of the film's mostengaging, visually stylish scenes, Cyrano is introduced from behind as ananonymous figure entering a Paris theater, the feather on his cap bobbingthrough the crowd. At the theater Cyrano first establishes his inventive,combative charm by engaging an attendant nobleman in a show of wits that leaves the audience in stitches.
When Roxanne falls in love with the handsome new Gascon recruit, Christian(Angelo Ferrari), Cyrano is heartbroken. But he does everything he can toprotect the boy and welcome him into the Gascon guard.
One of the most moving heroes in the history of stage and screen, Cyrano isa gallant, self-sacrificing man who jeopardizes even his own happiness sothat the Roxanne he adores can find true love. As part of that mission,Cyrano writes gloriously romantic letters to Roxanne on Christian's behalf. The gesture only further endears Roxanne to the good-looking but vacuous Christian. While Christian and Cyrano are at the front fighting the Spanish, Roxanne is so moved by Christian's letters she rushes to the battlefield to reunite with the man she believes wrote thoseletters, with tragic results.
Directed by acclaimed Italian director Augusto Genina (who went on todirect silent icon Louise Brooks in her last major film Prix deBeaute, 1930), this adaptation of Rostand's classic drama is an impressive epic in the annals of early film production, complete with a fabulouslyrecreated historical setting, exquisite costumes, impressive performancesand a story whose essential power has not diminished over time.
Cyrano de Bergerac was believed to have been lost until itsfortunate rediscovery and restoration in 1996. The film's re-release was greeted enthusiastically by the film community, largely because of the innovative visual look of the film. Shot in one of the first hand-painted color processes, Pathecolor, Cyrano is one of the few surviving examples of this visually stunning, lyrical technique whichrequired three years of meticulous work applying tinting, toning, stencilcoloring and hand-painting to each individual frame. Pathecolor wasconsidered a great success, because unlike other color processes, it didnot need special equipment for projection. A New York Sun criticrhapsodized about the use of Pathecolor in Cyrano, "The charactersappear in eye-smashing creations, consisting of purple trousers, pinkshirts and green capes, or blue gowns, yellow hats and indigo hose. [Theresult] has all the artistic effectiveness of a succession of penny postalcards!"
But that wondrous cinematography is just one aspect of a captivating filmalso distinguished by Pierre Magnier's touching performance, whichprofoundly conveys the divinity of Cyrano's soul and the tortures of hisfrustrated love.
Rostand's eternally moving play of a noble man's desire for love has sincebeen adapted in numerous film versions: a 1950 film which won Jose Ferreran Academy Award for Best Actor, Steve Martin's comically updated versionRoxanne (1987) with Daryl Hannah as the unattainable beauty and a1990 French production directed by Jean-Paul Rappeneau and starring GerardDepardieu, which was a critical favorite.
Producer/Director: Augusto Genina
Screenplay: Mario Camerini, from the play by Edmond Rostand
Cinematography: Ottavio De Matteis
Music: Carlo Moser
Principal Cast: Pierre Magnier (Cyrano de Bergerac), Linda Moglia (Roxanne), AngeloFerrari (Christian), Alex Bernard (Rageuneau).
by Felicia Feaster