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Gerard Depardieu gives this Cyrano real panache

CYRANO de BERGERAC

Based on the play by Edmond Rostand.

Starring G'erard Depardieu, Anne Brochet, and Vincent Perez.

Directed by Jean-Paul Rappeneau.

Now playing at Loews Harvard Square.

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By DEBORAH A. LEVINSON

CRITICS HAVE ALWAYS AGREED -- Cyrano de Bergerac is a trite piece of romantic fluff. Still, people tend to like romantic fluff, and despite the literary critics' best efforts, Cyrano has endured. (Director Jean-Paul Rappeneau's notes in the press kit mention that "a study conducted on the French population's favorite literary character -- or the one they would have liked to be -- revealed an overwhelming preference for Cyrano.")

This is the latest film production of Cyrano, starring France's most popular actor, G'erard Depardieu. Depardieu is the perfect choice for Cyrano: solid and powerful, yet capable of displaying a wide range of emotions. His nose prosthesis lacks the ridiculousness of Steve Martin's in Roxanne. Depardieu's Cyrano has a nose with character; it's long, but not humorously so. He is a handsome man with a minor flaw.

Depardieu's good looks contribute to the tragedy of the story. If he were ugly, Cyrano's protestations that no women wanted him would make sense. The reality of the situation is that this Cyrano is handsome, and his eloquence only adds to his attractiveness.

On the whole, the subtitles are excellent. Rappeneau uses Anthony Burgess' translation, and consequently, the subtitles -- while they often take substantial poetic license with the original text -- approach the fragile beauty of Rostand's French.

The film itself is a masterpiece. From the hubbub of the opening scene in the H^otel de Bourgogne, to the touching final scene at the convent of the Dames de la Croix, almost every gesture, every inflection, every motion is perfect.

The plot revolves around Cyrano, poet and captain of a group of rowdy cadets; Christian (Vincent Perez), a young, beautiful, and foolish cadet; and Roxane (Anne Brochet), Cyrano's cousin. Christian is in love with Roxane but does not know how to attract her. He tells Cyrano at their first meeting: "Mais je ne sais, devant les femmes, que me taire," translated by Burgess as "When there's a woman, I become/ Paralytic, tongue-tied, speechless, dumb."

Perez is an adequate Christian. Rostand didn't give the character much depth, but Perez does manage to bring out Christian's primary motivation -- lust, not love. Brochet is luminous as Roxane, giving her character not only charm, but real spunk. She is a pleasure to watch.

The tragedy of the play is that Cyrano, too, is in love with Roxane, but he believes

that because of his grotesque features, she will never love him. There is one particularly affect-

ing scene when, in antici-

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pation of a meeting with him

that she has requested, he writes a letter telling of his feelings. His

hopes rise when she says to him:

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"Voil`a. J'aime quelqu'un . . . qui ne le sait pas d'ailleurs. . . . Mais qui va bient^ot le savoir, s'il l'ignore. . . . Un pauvre gar,con qui jusqu'ici m'aima/ Timidement, de loin, sans oser le dire. . . ."

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("I'm in love with someone . . . someone who doesn't know, doesn't suspect . . . but he will know. Soon . . . and he loves me too/ But, so far, timidly, from a distance, poor boy, too scared to speak.")

Soon enough, Cyrano realizes that Roxane is not talking about him, but about Christian, the new cadet in his regiment. Shattered, he vows to never again think of his love for Roxane.

This is the vow that sparks the tragic action of the play. Christian, too dumb to win Roxane himself, asks Cyrano for help. Cyrano decides that wooing Roxane vicariously will be enough for him, and he offers to write love letters to Roxane and sign Christian's name to them.

Like Romeo and Juliet, Cyrano de Bergerac has a famous balcony scene. Instead of Romeo wooing Juliet from beneath her balcony, Cyrano and Christian stand beneath Roxane's balcony, Cyrano feeding Christian romantic lines for Roxane. When Christian can no longer understand Cyrano's cues, Cyrano imitates Christian's voice and recites his own verses.

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Rappeneau stages the scene

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masterfully. Brochet stands on the

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balcony, radiant in a flowing white

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nightgown, her luxurious russet hair

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tumbling over her shoulders. The men

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remain below, shrouded in darkness. As Cyrano begins to speak for himself, he wears Christian's hat. The camera follows from above, showing Cyrano moving through the trees but never showing his face.

Rappeneau's direction of the scene makes Depardieu a combination of Cyrano and Christian. Since we never see Depardieu's face as he walks near the trees, we can only identify the man by his hat, and that hat is not even his own. The act of covering the two men in darkness echoes one of Cyrano's most elegant lines to Roxane: "Moi, je ne suis qu'une ombre, et vous qu'une clairt'e!" -- Burgess' "I am a shadow/ and you the quintessence of light."

Rappeneau also shows remarkable skill in his direction of Christian's death scene. Roxane bends over Christian, holding his face tenderly, telling him that she loves him. Cyrano watches, the pain on his face readily visible when Christian dies. Cyrano's eyes hold such sadness that we know he has lost his only chance to confess his love to Roxane.

The end of the play takes place 15 years after the siege of Arras. Her heart broken, Roxane has moved into the convent of the Dames de la Croix. Cyrano has visited her there every Saturday for the past 10 years, bringing her his "gazette," or news of the week's happenings.

Cyrano's inability to express his love for Roxane has made him a bitter man. His poems, instead of praising people, now are full of vitriol and personal attacks on those he considers buffoons. He earns plenty of enemies among the Paris citizens, and someone arranges one Saturday for a wooden beam to fall on Cyrano's head. Although he is severely wounded, Cyrano refuses to abandon his appointment at the convent.

Roxane notices that Cyrano seems weaker, but Cyrano attributes it to an old war wound. Reminding him that everyone has wounds of some sort, Roxane pulls out Christian's final letter to her -- one Cyrano had written. Cyrano asks to read it, and as the sun sets, he continues reading. Roxane, figuring that Cyrano could not be reading in the dark unless he knew the letter by heart already, suddenly realizes that Cyrano is the author of the letters.

This scene -- the moment of catharsis -- is heart-breaking. Rappeneau makes this the most poignant of all the scenes in the film. Brochet, though dressed in widow's black, is still young and beautiful, a sharp contrast to Depardieu's weary, gray-haired Cyrano. Darkness obscures the scene, a visual indication of the "twilight" of Cyrano's life. This is the scene in which Depardieu and Brochet connect the most: We can believe in them as Cyrano and Roxane, so close to happiness but torn apart in the end by the inevitable force of death. It's the ultimate tale of lost love, the traditional formula of boy wanting girl and boy losing girl. Sometimes, though, formulas work, and Cyrano de Bergerac is definitely one of those cases.