Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Cyrano, My Love: Where the Nose Came from

Don’t call Edmond Rostand a one-hit wonder. He also wrote Les Romanesques. It was a big hit at the time and it became the basis of The Fantasticks Off-Broadway, so you have to give it to him. However, at the time our story starts, Rostand was very definitely a one-hit wonder, flirting with obscurity. Of course, his biggest hit is ahead of him. We will see the fictionalized, Shakespeare In Love-style inspiration for his enduring masterpiece in Alexis Michalik’s Cyrano, My Love (a.k.a. Edmond), which opens this Friday in New York.

Sarah Bernhardt thinks the world of Rostand’s talent, even though the play he wrote for her flopped hard. His wife also still believes in his potential, but he is making it increasingly difficult for her. He hasn’t written a word in months, but when Bernhardt arranges a meeting with the great French thespian, Constant Coquelin, Rostand does his best to bluff his way through.

Fortunately, around this time, Rostand starts writing love letters on behalf of his handsome but meatheaded actor friend, Leonidas Leo Volny. In the process, he discovers the object of Volny’s affection, a costume assistant named Jeanne d’Alcie is quite a wonderfully sensitive and well-read young lady. Yes, you can see where this is going, but the way it gets there is genuinely clever.

Cyrano, My Love
is a droll romantic comedy that features a good deal of backstage door-slamming farce, but it still has depth and soul. In fact, it is rather refreshing how Rostand upholds both his love and fidelity for his wife, despite finding himself attracted to d’Alcie as a muse. It is also impressive that Mickalik can maintain the real-world-inspiring-art premise throughout nearly the entire film, without it getting stale or feeling forced.

As Rostand, Thomas Soliveres develops nebbish charisma over time. Olivier Gourmet is quite appropriately a larger-than-life scene-stealer, who gets plenty of laughs as Coquelin. Both Tom Leeb and Lucie Boujenah are surprisingly charming and credibly engaging as Volny and d’Alcie, serving as models but not slavish analogs for Christian and Roxanne. Simon Abkarian, Marc Andreoni, and Mathilde Seigner are also energetically game for the more physical and farcical humor as the play’s gangster backers and the star, their former mistress. Yet, maybe some of the best moments come from Jean-Michel Martial, as the French-African café proprietor who provides Rostand’s first initial germ of inspiration (and helps nurture it thereafter, as a patron of the arts).

Few plays have been a durable as Cyrano, which continues to spawn revivals and adaptations more than a century after its premiere. Here in New York, Peter Dinklage is now taking on the role, in a musical staging. Michalik (who also plays Rostand’s puffed-up rival, Georges Feydeau) nicely pays tribute to play and its players. It is all quite lovely, in a very French kind of way. Highly recommended for patrons of French cinema and drama, Cyrano, My Love opens this Friday (10/18) in New York, at the Angelika Film Center.