Cyrano: a story of love or lust?
A film that asks questions about the nature of love. Review by Mat Gale
Cyrano De Bergerac. The name meant nothing to me, though it turns out the story I loosely knew.
I went into the film with this knowledge, practically blind to what the next two hours would be. All I knew was that it was a love story with the now pop culture ‘cliché’ of a wordsmith aiding the heart-throb at the bottom of the leading lady’s balcony.
Was I aware it had been a stage show beforehand? No. Is it clear that it was on stage as you watch the film? Yes.
In saying that when the film starts with its first musical piece, it did initially throw me, but as a fan of musicals (film or stage) I soon eased into what I was going to be watching. Pair the musical numbers with the spoken words having the rhythm and cadences of a two-hour long poem, and it provided a slight breath of fresh air when it comes to the romantic drama.
The practical aspects of the film are where I believe it thrives. As a lover of practical and physical effects in film and television I was so happy that Cyrano is filmed predominantly on set and location. Italy looked beautiful and a fitting physical replacement for 1600 France. Keeping the film feeling warm, showing the love between Roxanne and Christian, and a stark opposite for Cyrano’s grief and colder characteristics.
The film raises certain questions like: How do you know what love is?; Are people less deserving of love because the way they look? Do you fall for someone’s looks or is it their words and actions?
Cyrano (Peter Dinklage) from the get go is a charismatic character, a natural poet and wordsmith, but cursed in not looking how society would deem someone worthy of love and a family, least of all the love of his life, the beautiful, free thinking effervescent Roxanne (Hayley Bennett). Roxanne falls for Christian (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) at first sight, principally for his obvious good looks but unaware he isn’t all there when it comes to professing his love in more poetic language, like every one else trying to win her attention and hand in marriage.
If I am to look at this with a Christian eye, I would say that the prior questions and the film as a whole would work well as a house group exercise and as a piece of entertainment, more than the film having religious themes and story lines. True, it is set in 17th century Catholic France, and thus is a useful tool to unpack Christian ideals and understandings of love, both physical and godly. But if taking something deeper from Cyrano was your aim, may I suggest Les Misérables. A musical, drama series, film that, to me, is what Cyrano is trying to be.
With this Christian eye on both these works, Les Mis is the one with the Christian themes, theology and questions running throughout. As I’m sure you know, we follow a man who devotes his life to God, to redemption, to helping others (even when they’re very much against him). Cyrano as a character is not one with faith, neither is Christian, neither is Roxanne (until she works in a hospital ran by nuns). Les Mis speaks of theology, has prayer, and holds to these. Cyrano has some songs that mention these same things but only because the characters who sing them are living in a heavy Catholic time and tradition… That’s it.
It still looks at love in the linear sense as Cyrano does, but it goes much deeper than physical attraction and pure lust (Cyrano’s words through Christian’s letters to Roxanne implies love plays second to lust, be it sexual or fantasy). The love in Les Mis is love of the character of someone, there is a soul, a Godly love and compassion. Whereas this is missing in Cyrano: it really is love is physical, love is words, love is time.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that Cyrano is a good piece of entertainment. If you like romantic drama and musicals, you’ll be very happy with the film. If you’re hoping for a deeper perspective on love, and a sermon series, you’ll have your work cut out to grab something substantial.
Mat Gale is a Creative Designer with the Baptist Union of Great Britain