skip navigation
Cyrano de Bergerac (1990)
Remind Me
,Cyrano de Bergerac

Cyrano de Bergerac (1990)

Edmond Rostand first published his play Cyrano de Bergerac in 1897. An immediate hit upon its first Paris production, the story has lived on as the ultimate romance, cherished equally for the affection two men hold for the woman they both love - one secretly - and for the great sacrifice one friend makes for another. The spirit of the drama is so indelible, it has been filmed countless times for film and television in many countries. But many critics and audiences place Jean-Paul Rappeneau's 1990 version at the top of that list, with Gérard Depardieu's Cyrano arguably the finest of all.

Cyrano is a dashing officer of the guard in mid-17th century France. An expert swordsman, he also has a rapier wit, devastating anyone who dares to ridicule his huge nose. Because of that incredible appendage, however, he is sure he can never profess his love for his cousin Roxane, so he agrees to help his handsome but dim-witted subordinate, Christian, woo her by writing her love letters. Cyrano's beautiful skill with words and the deep feelings he harbors for the young woman easily win her heart, although she believes the sentiments are coming from Christian.

There actually was a historical figure on whom Rostand based his play. Savinien de Cyrano de Bergerac (1619-1655) was a French dramatist and duelist whose portraits suggest that he did have a big nose, though not nearly as large as depicted in the fictional works about him. The stories add much other fiction as well; he did have a cousin who married a soldier friend of his, but her name was Catherine, and he likely did not write love letters to her on his friend's behalf. Both men, however, fought at the siege of Arras in 1640, a battle of the Thirty Years War between France and Spain, just as in the play. A statue in Cyrano's honor stands in the town of Bergerac, Dordogne.

Depardieu relished his role, and aside from the prosthetic nose, also enjoyed his look in this picture enough to keep the long hair and mustache for some time after. Playing Cyrano has certainly been one of the crowning achievements of his long career. The role earned him Best Actor awards from the London Film Critics Circle, the Cannes Film Festival, and the César (the national film awards of France), as well as nominations from BAFTA (the British Academy Award) and the European Film Awards. He also received an Academy Award nomination.

Other honored aspects of Cyrano de Bergerac include Césars for Best Film, Cinematography, Costume, Direction, Editing, Music, Production Design, Sound, and Supporting Actor Jacques Weber; BAFTA awards for Cinematography, Costume Design, Makeup, and Score; a Golden Globe and National Board of Review Award for Best Foreign Language Film; an Academy Award for Costume Design (along with nominations for Makeup, Art Direction, and Foreign Language Film), and dozens of other awards and nominations from film societies, critics organizations, and festivals throughout the world.

Even the subtitles for this 1990 version carry distinction. They were written by acclaimed British novelist, critic, poet, playwright, and linguist Anthony Burgess, author of A Clockwork Orange and Earthly Powers. Burgess composed the English subtitles in rhymed couplets to mirror the dialogue of Rostand's original play.

The most famous film version of the story prior to this was made in 1950 and earned Jose Ferrer a Best Actor Academy Award. Toshiro Mifune plays a character based on Cyrano, set in 17th century Japan, in Aru kengo no shogai/Life of an Expert Swordsman (1959). The story has also been transposed to a modern American setting in Roxanne (1987), in which Steve Martin earned an Oscar® nomination as a big-nosed, small-town fire chief who woos his Roxanne (Daryl Hannah) on behalf of one of his young firefighters (Rick Rossovich).

Cyrano de Bergerac required 2,000 actors and extras and 2,000 costumes. About 1,000 of those costumes were designed especially for the film. More than a thousand weapons were required, along with forty studio sets and outdoor locations in France and Hungary, including cathedrals and abbeys.

In the film, Gérard Depardieu and Vincent Perez play rivals for Roxane's love. In real life, they would both be involved with the same woman, actress Karine Silla. In 1992, Depardieu and Silla had a daughter, whom they named Roxanne. Silla and Perez were married in 1998.

Edmond Rostand's original play identifies one character as "a Musketeer" who compliments Cyrano after his duel with Valvert. He is identified in that scene as D'Artagnan; it may have been Rostand's intention to deliberately recall the central hero of The Three Musketeers and other Alexandre Dumas novels. Coincidentally, the two most famous Cyranos have appeared in adaptations of those novels: Depardieu as Porthos in The Man in the Iron Mask (1998) and Ferrer as Athos in The Fifth Musketeer (1979).

Cinematographer Pierre Lhomme is one of France's most respected film artists and a sought-after director of photography in other countries, responsible for the filming of such works as Philippe de Broca's King of Hearts (1966), Jean-Pierre Melville's Army of Shadows (1969), and several James Ivory films, including Maurice (1987). In addition to his César for this picture, he won for another Depardieu vehicle (with Isabelle Adjani), Camille Claudel (1988).

The script was adapted by director Jean-Paul Rappeneau and Jean-Claude Carrière. Luis Bunuel's longtime collaborator on six films, including Belle de Jour (1967) and The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972), Carrière has also written films for Jean-Luc Godard (Every Man for Himself, 1980) and Volker Schlondorff (The Tin Drum, 1979). Director: Jean-Paul Rappeneau
Producers: René Cleitman, Michel Seydoux, André Szöts
Screenplay: Jean-Claude Carrière, Jean-Paul Rappeneau, based on the play by Edmond Rostand
Cinematography: Pierre Lhomme
Editing: Noelle Boisson
Production Design: Ezio Frigerio
Original Music: Jean-Claude Petit
Cast: Gérard Depardieu (Cyrano), Anne Brochet (Roxane), Vincent Perez (Christian), Jacques Weber (Comte de Guiche), Roland Bertin (Ragueneau).
C-137m. Letterboxed. Closed Captioning. Descriptive Video.

by Rob Nixon