Gerard Depardieu is Cyrano de Bergerac, there is no doubt in the matter. He was born to play the role, in one of those instances where no other actor could possibly be even imagined playing the role. Even the great Steve Martin gave it a stab in Roxanne, but he couldn’t quite match the heady heights (or should that be lengths?) achieved by Depardieu and a handful of putty on his proboscis.
As much as I’d like the title of this post to actually be in reference to a blog update, whereby I’d allowed myself more time to watch these films than the allotted five years, alas it is in fact the title of a 1999 French film about the life of novelist Marcel Proust. The film is as thrilling as that sounds, and holds the position of the biography I’ve seen that, after having watched it, I know roughly the same amount about it’s subject as I did before watching, and all I knew beforehand was that at some point or other he’d written something.
Beginning with Proust (Marcello Mazzarella) on his death bed, dictating to an underling and going over old photographs with a magnifying glass, he then proceeds to remember his life, in whatever order he damn well pleases. Scenes are shown more than once, overlapping with similar yet different details, characters wander in and out freely, most with no introduction and some with several, and it’s difficult, if not impossible, to tell what is real and what isn’t. How much is memory? Is this his version of events or what really happened? With such little concrete fact to go on, nothing is learnt because nothing can be trusted.
Just as the opening credits show a stream washing over pebbles, so to did the entirety of this film wash over me. I was bored within the first 20 minutes, having nothing to affix my attention to but the sumptuous visuals and interesting uses of lighting, colour, focus and mirrors. At times it takes a meander into Bunuel territory, with rooms of upturned top hats lined on the floor, aristocratic party goers momentarily becoming mannequins and revolving audiences at a musical performance. At one point a woman visibly grows younger, then older, within a scene.
If the film was designed to be impenetrable, as I think is the case, then congratulations should go to director Raoul Ruiz, for this film is alienating if you have no knowledge of it’s central character. If you’re watching to try and discover details of the writer’s life, then flee, run full pelt in the opposite direction and head to the library instead, for there will be no assistance here. When party guests (there’s a lot of soirees in this film) complain at being confused at meeting so many new people, I can truly empathise.
Whilst the film looks astounding, it’s essentially pointless.
Choose life 3/10
Though wittier and more romantic than any man within smelling distance, the Cyrano de Bergerac has to his mind but one fault; his comically oversized snout. Though he loves his cousin Roxane, he feels he can never voice his feelings, for she would surely laugh away his advances, so when Roxane falls for the much more handsome yet far less eloquent Christian, Bergerac proposes to assist the pair by writing her letters on Christian’s behalf. Depardieu adds more than a sniff of life and colour to the picture, his red cape like a beacon amidst the otherwise muted palette as his noble showman takes on all comers at both word and swordplay, defeating a man whilst with both rapier wit and real life equivalent after being told his “nose is very big.” By beginning with arguably the greatest scene the film can only go downhill, but it doesn’t go far, maintaining a level of quality and tension throughout.
An unexpected turn occurs in the third act, and comedy is mined when Christian is forced to make wooing attempts without his wordsmith aide (“I love you”/”Yes, and then?”) and the attempt to resolve a love triangle amidst an epic battle is equal parts humorous, heartbreaking and dramatic.
Choose film 7/10