Valentine’s Day is nearly upon us, so I figure it’s fitting that my first review for the Back to the Classics Challenge be the book I chose for the romance category: Cyrano de Bergerac. Thing is, I didn’t just read the play. I also watched the old ‘50s film and read the graphic novel. Each had their perks and pitfalls, which I will discuss here.
The Film: It is my humble opinion that Jose Ferrer is Cyrano. According to IMDb, he played that role many times. After all, the quality of film is having a human face for a written character, and Ferrer pulls off the role perfectly.
I liked how Christian de Neuvillette was portrayed. His introduction worked, but better yet was his exit. I’m not saying I enjoyed his fate, but overall I think the film version gives it more tension and meaning. That was good, since his introduction in the play where he warns Ligniere of danger is cut, and something then is needed to make Christian more than just ‘the rival’. Ligniere is also cut from the cast, but his role is given to the pastry chef poet Ragueneau. The change worked, and even improved the tension.
Roxane and Antoine Comte de Guiche also have certain scenes cut. Unfortunately, nothing is put in as replacement. This is a pity, since Roxane’s plotting scene in Scene II, Act 3 adds some salt to both her character and to de Guiche’s.
To see one of my favourite scenes, click this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nFiLIsMieiQ
The Graphic Novel: In this adaption by Peter David and Kyle Baker, Ligniere is back in the cast, and Roxane has her plotting scene. But, like the film, the graphic novel still had to shave off a few scenes and characters. They say, however, that a picture is worth a thousand words. The artist is able to make characters say two things at once as their figure remains calm, but their shadow panics. Exaggerated expressions and paneling is used to maximum effect. The artist even has some fun by drawing a passing bird perch on Cyrano’s nose.
But most notable is the use of the word panache, the word Rostand had used. For those who are unfamiliar with the word- as I was before reading the graphic novel- there is a section at the back of the book which describes the significance of panache. It is a stronger word than ‘white plume’ or ‘white scarf’ that was used in the translated book and film, respectively. It’s more than just a literal plume; it’s a symbol of Cyrano’s ideals. I appreciated that. Panache is my new favourite word.
The Play: As for the story itself, the actual play (translated by Lowell Bair) – it was excellent! I love the contrasts in Cyrano’s character. Rich in his honour and skill, and loved for it; but at the same time in poverty, and hated for his unbridled rapier wit. He is a bold and romantic soul, but plagued by the size of his nose.
Themes of love, honour, art, honesty, and sacrifice fill the story. They are rich themes, and make for a rich story. I also like how they flesh out the characters. Cyrano, Christian, and Roxane value these themes, and work hard for them. But eventually it is these same values- twisted- that bring their downfalls. Meanwhile, de Guiche is given some grace as it is seen that even he holds some of these ideals.
Unlike the film and graphic novel, there is more time allowed for extra characters and extra scenes. Sometimes these characters and scenes seem unnecessary, but for the most part they enrich the story. There is a stronger sense of camaraderie between Cyrano and his Gascon cadets. I quickly came to like this band of brothers.
Eighth Cadet: “Why is it that you never complain about your hunger?”
Cyrano: “Because there’s one thing I’m not hungry enough to swallow: my pride”
First Cadet (Shrugging): “You’re never at a loss for a clever remark.”
Cyrano: “Yes, and I hope that when death comes to me it will find me fighting in a good cause and making a clever remark! I want to be struck down by the only noble weapon, the sword, wielded by an adversary worthy of me, and to die not in a sickbed but on the field of glory, with sharp steel in my heart and a flash of wit on my lips!”
Over all, I highly recommend Edmond Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac. Experience it in all formats, if you are able!