Tuesday, 3 January 2012


Film Poster - 1950

On December 30th, I happened to watch a film that made a really good impression on me. Who hasn't heard of French playwright and duellist Cyrano de Bergerac? Not until recently did I learn that in his play Edmond Rostand portrays a flesh-and-blood character. Whether his depiction of Hercule-Savinien de Cyrano de Bergerac is realistic or not is another matter. His personality, work and thought seem to have inspired a few others. Among those there's Rostand, and his play, which has inspired, in turn, quite a few screen adaptations. 

José Ferrer interprets wonderfully the role of Cyrano de Bergerac. I had watched a couple of screen versions of this tragic and extremely moving story, yet sharpened and spiced by Cyrano's dry wit, but yesterday the odds gave me the chance to finish the year that will shortly draw to an end with a strangely bittersweet taste in my mouth.

I've always preferred black-and-white films to modern ones, to the dismay of those who wanted to plan a movie night with me. Dry wit and punchy lines to special effects and multimillion dollar budgets. "Images speak louder than words"... well, yes, they may sometimes. Yet a word is worth a thousand pictures when it is the right one.

José Ferrer as Cyrano
Yesterday night, in the wee hours, when night and day play hide and seek and you don't know where and when either of them ends or begins. It was there and then that it hit me. Our tragicomic hero, his anti-mercantilism and anti-conformism, his deprecating remarks on shallowness and vacuity, it all sounded like a leaf I would like to take out of someone else's book. Cyrano seemed to voice my innermost complaints and the longing for a society where values take on a new dimension. He rebelled against military, political (actually against any kind of) power because he knew corruption when he saw it; he wouldn't have his plays either published or performed because he wouldn't kiss up to those who had the power to do so. Dignity and pride, he did know their meaning. The realisation that kissing up to someone who can help you up the ladder is and has been a lifestyle for many may seem a bit of a platitude, yet silence gives consent. The other side of the coin, we're also familiar with: that odd individual who refuses to adopt the values everyone else endorses and whom most individuals regard as the bad apple that must be removed from the barrel, that lost sheep that leads astray. In this case, the sheep only looks as if it was lost. If you look closer, you will notice that it does not actually lead astray but contrariwise knows quite well where it is going. It leads the way, not necessarily for the rest to follow, probably too blind to see that the former is opening a new, untrodden, yet invaluable way. Whether this way is being open just for himself or for others to follow, our maverick sheep does not really care much for. Most importantly, the poison that corrupted the wealthy and powerful will not corrupt him.

A picture indelibly stamped in my mind: the image of a man who shouts and goes into a frenzy when delivering his speech, brandishing his sword and making enemies amongst those he deems to be the villains – but whom the law, and with it every lay and religious man, regards as the top authorities. This could be any revolutionary leader; it could be the Messiah driving the merchants out of temple, urging the people to open their eyes and see the true colours of the men who lead them and should be setting an example for them, but who alas do not practise what they preach.

Love Triangle: Roxane, Christian and Cyrano

To me, Cyrano seems to embody that spirit of assertiveness some of us thirst for, as well as an injection of values -possibly those from the good old days- that seem long gone, lost in oblivion. And yet, his defiance of corruption, hypocrisy and mercantilism does not stop him from experiencing true love, but rather masks the frailty of an extremely sensitive heart.

We would do well in taking a leaf out of the book of individuals like him. Those who are not afraid to say "yes" and "no" when they know that is definitely not the lucky answer; those we may brand as foolish or rough, yet deep down we know that they know well what they are doing.

Cyrano de Bergerac. Dir. Michael Gordon. Perf. José Ferrer, Mala Powers and William Prince. Stanley Kramer Productions, 1950.

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