After the critically criticized thriller “The Woman in the Window,” which was sent to Netflix, director Joe Wright returns to the world of costume drama – but in his own way CYRANO is also sung. We reveal how fantastic this is in our review.
OT: Cyrano (UK/CAN/USA 2021)
France, end of the 17th century: Officer Cyrano de Bergerac (Peter Dinklage) is known throughout the city as an eloquent connoisseur (and critic) of the theater and is admired for his skills with a sword. However, people talk about his appearance behind his back – and anyone who doesn’t value physical integrity will say all kinds of humiliation to his face. Struck by the constant insults, Cyrano, despite all other self-confidence, shy away from confessing to his acquaintance Roxanne (Haley Bennett) that he loves her. When Roxanne falls in love at first sight with the young cadet Christian (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) one evening, he decides to at least help Roxanne find happiness in love by acting as a ghostwriter for Christian’s love letters and thus infatuating the less than eloquent man makes you look more desirable to your eyes. But jealousy and the plans of the nobleman De Guiche (Ben Mendelsohn), who is also interested in Roxanne, throw everything dramatically into disarray…
Joe Wright always manages to recover immediately after a weaker directorial effort. “The Soloist” was followed by the unusual thriller “Who is Hanna?” “Pan” was followed by the gripping political historical drama “The Darkest Hour,” in which Wright channeled his determination to prove that he would not let the poor reception of his fantasy film get him down into a gripping, triumphant conclusion. The expectations for “Cyrano” could therefore be set accordingly high, as Wright’s adaptation of the famous Love Whisperer story by Edmond Rostand follows the thriller “The Woman in the Window”, which was torn apart by the film press. Plus, as a big, influential love story, “Cyrano” is exactly the kind of story that Wright is best known for thanks to his unofficial Keira Knightley trilogy “Pride and Prejudice,” “Atonement” and “Anna Karenina.” What “Cyrano” also has in common with the latter title is that Wright had to form a creative virtue out of production-technical necessity: in the case of “Anna Karenina,” parts of the previously promised financing fell through, so that Wright turned a conventional Tolstoy costume drama into a consciously stylized Tolstoy interpretation made, which presents the stilted love dance of the nobles who play politics with relationships in the reduced look of a play. With “Cyrano,” Wright was forced to film a lavish musical in the middle of a global pandemic.
Cyrano (Peter Dinklage) is madly in love with Roxanne, who is unattainable for him.
Wright’s solution was to choose the Sicilian city of Noto as a filming location, where the corona numbers were significantly lower than on the Italian mainland and it was possible for him and his 350-strong team of cast, crew and extras to isolate themselves from the outside world to seal off. The Brit looked at the film as if it were a gigantic play, with dance ensembles returning in various background roles, and specifically brought people from a wide variety of European countries into the project to fight against his pain over Brexit. The decision to tackle “Cyrano” now of all times was Wright’s way of dealing with political frustration – and perhaps the decision also served as a subconscious course correction after “The Woman in the Window”: Wright, whose most popular films display a vulnerable emotional honesty, practiced in his thriller adaptation/Hitchcock homage to disappointing results in directorial irony. “Cyrano”, on the other hand, is open-hearted from start to finish; there is not a hint of irony about him, let alone a cynical streak.
“Joe Wright looked at the film as if it were a gigantic play, with dance ensembles returning in various background roles, and specifically brought people from a wide range of European countries into the project to combat his pain over Brexit.”
This is a conscious, tonal decision on Wright’s part, as he explained in a recent interview, but it is greatly reinforced by the personalities behind this film: The script comes from theater dramaturg Erica Schmidt, who is adapting her own stage musical based on Rostand’s classic. Schmidt gave the material to her husband Peter Dinklage (“I Care a Lot”) written on his body, thus fulfilling his career-long dream of finally being able to play a romantic leading role. In addition, “Swallow” star Haley Bennett already played the female lead in the stage version – which brought the play to the attention of her partner Joe Wright. Wright fell in love with the play, asked Bennett for permission to offer Schmidt a screen adaptation, and so the film became a reality. These personal bonds can be seen throughout “Cyrano”: Dinklage fills the character of Cyrano with every fiber of his body, convincingly embodying the empathetic, romantic and eloquent soldier as a self-absorbed poet and fighter who enjoys putting on a big show in public , but in more intimate moments can reveal himself as sheepish and hurt.
Roxanne’s (Haley Bennett) admirers are numerous…
Haley Bennett, meanwhile, continues to play Roxanne under Wright’s direction with the great, proverbial blue-eyedness of the Rostand classic, so that her obscurity about Cyrano’s passion remains plausible. But Bennett’s Roxanne is appreciated in Wright’s “Cyrano” and given space to show off her intellect and backbone, whereas Rostand’s text constantly throws swipes at the character. The film’s two romantic main characters are more equal than in the original, which brings a touch of modern sensibility into the film, and Wright’s overall self-confident, old-fashioned, classic-romantic approach remains accessible despite today’s viewing habits. Because without any cynicism, winks or false shyness about breaking out into ballet choreography in the music scenes, Wright indulges in exuberant, heartfelt, tortured romanticism that can hardly be seen in the cinema today and could therefore quickly seem strange. The songs by Aaron and Bryce Dessner and Matt Berninger & Carin Besse, which the quartet reworked from the stage version in close collaboration with Wright, were sung live on set – and Wright takes a similar direct approach to Tom Hooper in “Les Misérables”: If a sigh or heavy breathing throws the performance out of rhythm, or the emotion behind the sung words causes the voice to break and therefore miss the note, Wright often leaves this in the film instead of going for a clean, new take .
“The songs by Aaron and Bryce Dessner and Matt Berninger & Carin Besse, which the quartet revised from the stage version in close collaboration with Wright, were sung live on set.”
Under Wright, the rough dialogue acting and singing do not blur together as messily as Hooper’s, but the two works are still related in their approach. This will certainly divide opinions, but fits perfectly into Wright’s stylistic approach of combining emotional reality and theatrical gestures full of artistic pathos. However, the fact that many of the compositions strive for a reserved sound slows down “Cyrano”: the whispered tonality is reflected in the intimate passages. However, several of the songs, in which the irrepressible emotions of the central characters fight their way out, a city-wide choir joins in and follows Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s dreamy ballet movements in perfect unity, are merely whispered. In sequences like this, Wright slows himself down unnecessarily with the quieter, gentler sound of the songs instead of allowing his characters to belt out at the top of their lungs.
Christian (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) in particular is a serious candidate…
But this does not affect the haunting power of the images that Wright and his trusted cinematographer Seamus McGarvey create: they make Noto look breathtakingly beautiful, and when McGarvey’s camera glides through the dance ensemble or hovers over a wall, around ornate beach streets full of dancers to show it can take your breath away. Added to this are the Oscar-nominated costumes by Massimo Cantini Parrini and Jacqueline Durran, which dance with ease along the fine line between historical plausibility and imaginative playfulness. In addition to Dinklage and Bennett, who harmonize wonderfully, Kelvin Harrison Jr. (“Waves”) as Roxanne’s crush who enlists Cyrano’s help – the balance of denial that allows him to ignore Cyrano’s clear love for Roxanne and self-pride he only occasionally succeeds in, which is also because the script is only casually for interested in his role. However, Harrison’s charm can disguise this disadvantage in many scenes. But Ben Mendelsohn is more impressive (“Robin Hood”) as a pompous, lustful nobleman who wants to make Roxanne his own and, according to the classic villain song musical law, is allowed to sing one of the few driving numbers. The bottom line is that with “Cyrano,” Wright creates an enchantingly strange costume drama romantic musical: it is intensely and luxuriantly blunt and at the same time quietly and shamefully reserved. This is a habit that fully suits the title hero of this production, but also means that the flame for the film burns rather slowly.
Conclusion: “Cyrano” isn’t exactly the kind of musical that a lot of film fans will fall in love with – but as an indulgent, whimsical costume battle against beautiful backdrops and with one of Peter Dinklage’s best performances, Joe Wright’s passionate work will undoubtedly find its way into some hearts.
“Cyrano” can now be seen in USA cinemas.