I'll say this at the outset: Cyrano de Bergerac is a very well
done film, for the kind of film that it is. Production values are
high, with attention to details of the period setting in evidence,
and a lavish use of costumes and sets to create the romantic,
swashbuckling tone of the story. The cast takes on their roles with
gusto, most notably Gerard Depardieu in the title role. And the story
certainly has roots in a very classy tradition, based on the French
play by Edmund Rostand, which in turn fictionalized the real
historical figure of de Bergerac, a 17th century duelist and author.
Whether or not you find Cyrano de Bergerac to be an
entertaining and enjoyable film, though, depends on whether your
tastes coincide with those of the filmmakers. As it happens, I found
myself in the unenviable position of intellectually appreciating the
polish of the film, while finding that as for its effect, it left me
Cyrano de Bergerac is very true to its traditional roots; even
though the play that this film was based on was written in the 19th
century, it looks backward in style as well as content: this is very
much a story of the 17th century, complete with its mix of buffoonery
and elegance, witty repartee and a touch of adventure. But each
period puts its own stamp on its productions of comedy and adventure,
and I've never particularly cared for the 17th century variety. We
get a lot of fancy talk, but little real character development;
three-dimensional characters are really not attempted.
the story really finds its center is in verbal pyrotechnics, from
Cyrano's poem composed in the midst of a duel, to his eloquent
soliloquys about his beloved. That's all
well and good, except... it doesn't translate well. At all.
Not only is the dialogue of Cyrano de Bergerac in
verse, it's in rhymed verse. It's basically impossible to translate
rhymed verse in any meaningful way: we get the sense of it, but not
the flavor, not the polish and sparkle of the original French. To
make matters worse, quite a lot of that sparkle takes the form of
puns and plays on words. Go ahead, try to translate that! The end
result is that the English subtitle translation of the dialogue for
Cyrano de Bergerac misses out on exactly the effect that the
film is most striving for.
there's a lot lost in translation. What's left? Well, there's the
basic love story between Cyrano and Roxane; whether that interests
you or not depends on how interested you become in the characters. As
for me, I wasn't hooked; I'm not sure I ever recovered from the
effect of the overwhelming first scene, in which a dozen different
characters are introduced in a whirl of activity in a crowded
theater. It's quite confusing, and certainly not the way to get off
to a good start.
de Bergerac is a comedy, so we might look for a few laughs here
and there, but again I found that it fell short. The humor here is a
mix of fairly ordinary physical comedy with that kind of
bickering-and-sniping exchanges that I recognize as intended to be
funny, without actually finding it funny in the least.
Cyrano de Bergerac is presented in a non-anamorphic widescreen
transfer, at the 1.66:1 aspect ratio. This is a fairly common aspect
ratio for European films, and is the original format. It's a quite
respectable transfer, with clean, bright colors, good contrast even
in dark scenes, and a generally crisp and attractive appearance.
Viewers have the choice of playing the film with English subtitles,
Spanish subtitles, or no subtitles at all.
The French Dolby 2.0 soundtrack for Cyrano de Bergerac delivers a
pleasing audio experience. The overall sound is clean and clear, with
the dialogue sounding natural and distinct.
Optional subtitles are provided, in English and Spanish.
The only special feature is a theatrical trailer for the film.
I wanted to like Cyrano de Bergerac, and it does seem like
there's a lot to like: a very well regarded lead actor, in Gerard
Depardieu, a classic story, and award-winning costumes and sets
establishing a rich period setting. But the French verse dialogue,
with its witty repartee and plays on words, doesn't translate well at
all, and the story and characters never really worked for me, either.
MGM has given the film a good transfer, though it lacks any real
special features, so viewers who have seen it before can be assured
of a worthwhile purchase; for those who are intrigued but haven't
seen it, I'd recommend starting out with a rental.