"This isn’t an intellectual disquisition about what makes a great play. Most of the film centers on the physical behind-the-scenes travails of trying to mount a production."
Life upon the wicked stage – and how a play gets onto that stage in the first place – is the topic of actor Alexis Michalik’s directorial debut film “Cyrano, My Love.”
It’s a sad fact of history that the success of Edmond Rostand’s “Cyrano de Bergerac” – arguably the most famous play in the French canon – didn’t ensure that Rostand’s name leap to the lip when French playwrights are discussed. It’s more likely to be “Oh yeah, ‘Cyrano de Bergerac,’ by that Frenchman – what was his name?”
“Cyrano, My Love” records a probably fanciful version of the why and how of the writing and opening of this play about the big-nosed guy who falls for the beautiful girl.
Rostand, it seems, was in a bit of a writing funk after a play he wrote for legendary actress Sarah Bernhardt (Clémentine Célarié) was less than a smash hit. It’s been two years without putting pen to paper and Bernhardt has asked for another play, but we see Rostand (Thomas Solivérès) going into a movie theater, where a very popular film makes him wonder whether (in the words of a Rodgers & Hammerstein musical) “the theater is dying,” perhaps to be replaced by film. But he doesn’t do film, and needs a hit play to feed long-suffering wife Rosemonde (Alice de Lencquesaing) and their two kids.
Everybody’s refuge here is the nearby café Chez Honoré, run by an erudite black businessman named (guess what?) Honoré (played by Jean-Michel Martial), who happens to have an uncanny ability to suggest plot lines and keep Rostand going.
When actor friend Léonidas Léo Volny (Tom Leeb) asks his epistolary help in wooing the lovely theater costumer Jeanne d’Alcie (Lucie Boujenah), Rostand complies. This not only helps his friend, but gives Rostand a plot point for a possible new play (not to mention a point of later contention between Rostand and wife Rose).
And when Rostand recruits famous actor Constant Coquelin (Olivier Gourmet) – who knows some willing backers – to play Cyrano, he’s on the way.
This isn’t an intellectual disquisition about what makes a great play. Most of the film centers on the physical behind-the-scenes travails of trying to mount a production.
Aside from the “not quite ready” annoyance of waiting for the script, there are problems like costumes that need work, an actor cast in a part he can’t do, the near-paralyzing (to Rostand) presence of famous playwright Georges Feydeau (director Michalik), whose fizzy farces have made him a household word in Paris. Worst of all, the cops arrive just in time – to ban Coquelin from setting foot on a French stage.
Can this play be saved? Mais oui, but I won’t tell you how.
The cast is excellent. Gourmet plays Coquelin with great panache and humor. Solivérès is excellent but understandably antsy as the playwright. Célarié’s Bernhardt is deliciously self-important.
Boujenah’s Jeanne is lovely and spunky. Leeb plays the hot-for-Jeanne Léo with almost adolescent eagerness, forcing Jeanne to decide which man she wants.
Martial’s Honoré provides the only reliably steady presence here.
Fans (and practitioners) of theater will love this film, full of fun, fizz and heart. There’s even a cameo for Russian playwright Anton Chekhov (Micha Lescot).
Opens Oct. 25 at Landmark Hillcrest Cinemas