The character of Cyrano de Bergerac is perhaps one of the most famous and powerful myths that have shaped the French imagination. The hero, fashioned by the playwright Edmond Rostand in his eponymous play written in 1897, has become the embodiment of a certain type of French soul, legendary for its nobility of spirit and largeness of heart; a subtle mixture of brazen boastfulness and provocation, combined with the timid fragility of those who love with immense generosity, to the point of self-forgetfulness. It is to Cyrano that we owe that magnificent and elusive, often invisible, thing that every self-respecting Frenchman makes it his duty to display with pride: panache.
The five-act play, loosely based on the life of the author Savinien de Cyrano de Bergerac, a contemporary of King Louis XIII, is so popular in France that it remains the most performed play in the French theatre repertoire. The greatest actors have played the long-nosed hero: Constant Coquelin, the creator of the character, and, more recently, Jean-Paul Belmondo, Francis Huster, and, of course, Gérard Depardieu, in the masterpiece film adaptation of the work by the director Jean-Paul Rappeneau.
In the beautiful land of France, no one approaches the hand of this immense work without trembling. If the soul of Cyrano is respected, success is assured, as proven by Alexis Michalik’s film Edmond, released in 2019, which pays tribute to Edmond Rostand in a very witty comedy about the genesis of the work and was acclaimed by both the public and the critics.
On the contrary, beware of those who would betray the proud Gascon. It appears that Joe Wright, the American director who embarked on the highly questionable adventure of adapting Cyrano to the wokish style, must not have been aware of the risks involved.
What does a director need to make a “good” woke movie? A praise for diversity, a love affair within a biracial couple, a lecherous white man, and a polite black guy. Many totems representative of woke ideology are gathered in Wright’s opus.
In this remake, which came out of the slightly too-fertile imagination of the priests of cancel culture, Cyrano no longer has a long nose, but his peculiar anatomical distinction is his physical size. He is a dwarf–and why not? Height, as a cultural construct evokative of the degree of one’s physical attractiveness, shouldn’t stand in the way of sexual prowess or romantic possibility. So what that a shrunken Cyrano deprives the spectator of the bravura piece of the first act, the nose tirade, intended to depict the infinite merits of Cyrano’s prominent nasal appendage?
Wright’s decision to rebrand the lead character reflects his postmodern ‘cleverness’. The dwarf is played by Peter Dinklage, who made his name as the tortured Tyrion Lannister in George Martin’s HBO adaptation of the Game of Thrones saga, and recently caught the limelight last month, when he criticised dwarf roles in Hollywood. Dinklage’s very presence evokes the recent debate over a woke-Disney, and can’t help but fuse the politics of the actor onto the character of Cyrano, to create a new expression of high masculinity and culture.
The dwarf Cyrano de Bergerac is, true to tale, in love with his girlfriend Roxanne—with two N’s, please. Unfortunately, the beautiful girl only has eyes for a handsome man called Christian. In the original, Baron Christian de Neuvillette is the valiant knight after whom Roxane sighs in Rostand’s book—told to have the features of a hero of Honoré d’Urfé, the first novelist of the French Renaissance.
In Wright’s film, Kelvin Harrison Jr. plays the Baron. Wright’s choice helps to promote multiculturalism, and celebrates the narrative of the nice black guy who gets to date the pretty white girl. What’s not so easy to ignore is the sense that a racial quota is being filled, and that a harmless, somewhat emasculated, man-of-color deserves to reap the rewards of romantic pursuit.
On the one hand, Wright’s film is a musical. On the other, the mediaries of musicals–human voices–confound the senses. The singing is of inferior quality, leading one to wonder if this too is part of Wright’s progressive message on inclusivity. Roxan(n)e’s feeble voice proves to be no obstacle to love. She sighs while singing weak melodies worthy of the worst musicals, but victory is nevertheless hers in the end.
Ben Mendelsohn plays the Count de Guiche perfectly, reveling in the role of the white male bastard-over-fifty who is adept at sexual harassment, Weinstein style.
One thing is missing for Cyrano to win the award of the most perfect woke movie: a gay romance between Cyrano and his companion Le Bret. But there has to be some room left for innovation in the next remake.
The scheduled release of Wright’s film has had many twists and turns. Several times postponed, it was scheduled in France for March 30th. But then, on Tuesday, March 8th, Universal announced that the French release of the film had been cancelled outright. The alleged reason is the poor results of the film at the American box office—only $2.6 million for a total budget of $30 million. Fortunately, American audiences can sometimes be discerning.
So much for the official reason. But a rumour is growing in the newsrooms, that the first feedbacks from French journalists on the film were so bad that we were heading straight for a disaster, or rather, a shipwreck, making the Titanic drama look like a gentle children’s comedy. We can thank Heaven that,
le val, la lande, la forêt,
Le petit pâtre brun sous son rouge béret,
La verte douceur des soirs sur la Dordogne… » (Act IV)
(the valley, the moor, the forest,
The sunburnt shepherd boy under his red beret,
The green softness of the evenings on the Dordogne)
… will thus be spared. In the streets of the beautiful country of France, on the screens of the cinemas, the French people will not have to suffer the affront of seeing this cultural by-product of Western decadence imposed on them. Cyrano would say it best, let’s let him speak:
J’aurais cru voir sur une fleur glisser une longue limace.
(I would have thought I saw a long slug slide over a flower.)