Film & Theatre

“Edmond,” Alexis Michalik’s Love Letter to Cyrano de Bergerac

by Chiara Spagnoli Gabardi

Savinien de Cyrano de Bergerac was a French novelist who lived during the 17th century and inspired the most notorious play written by Edmond Rostand in 1897. The love triangle between the shy, poetic and large-nosed Cyrano, his less articulate friend Christian and the charming Roxane, has been staged across the globe and adapted for cinema several times; as well as reworked into operas, ballet and other literary forms.

However the young director Alexis Michalik, through his theatrical background and experience behind and in front of the camera, brings to life a witty and enthralling ode to the author of Cyrano de Bergerac and his creative process.

Michalik’s first feature film, Edmond, is set in Paris in December 1897, exactly when the young French playwright was struggling for inspiration. Thanks to his admirer, the legendary Sarah Bernhardt, Rostand meets the most famous actor of the moment, Constant Coquelin, who insists on acting in his next play and having it debut in just three weeks. But Edmond has a wife and two children to take care of, many bills that are due, and most importantly he has yet to write the pièce. However he eventually finds his muse who will inspire the famous ‘Cyrano de Bergerac.’

Director Alexis Michalik sublimely retraces Rostand’s use of verse, creating parallels between Edmond’s mundane activities and his poetry. The entire film is paced by rhyming couplets, with references to the classical alexandrine form, whilst homaging the great legacy of the Académie française. Michalik’s approach in intertwining the biopic with the fictional work, reminds of John Madden’s Shakespeare in Love, but in this case the focus is on the genesis of the most famous story of the French Theater.

Michalik, who is also a stage actor and playwright shares some similarities with Rostand: they both had their first theatrical success at 29 years old. The contemporary metteur en scène turned réalisateur, notwithstanding his extensive career as a performer, did not choose to keep the role of Edmond for himself, casting Thomas Solivérès to play Rostand. Michalik opted for a cameo as Rostand’s rival: Georges Feydeau — who was much more successful than Rostand during the 19th century and was also known for being unsympathetic. By playing this role Alexis made a humble choice, mocking his position as an acclaimed author.

Olivier Gourmet performs majestically as the actor that Rostand cast to play Cyrano, Constant Coquelin; and the flamboyant Clémentine Célarié makes a stupendous Sarah Bernhardt. Lucie Boujenah is gentle and courteous in portraying Jeanne (who will inspire the character of Roxane), and Alice De Lencquesaing intensely embodies Rostand’s wife, Rosemonde, who is torn between jealousy and the demeanor that is required by the spouse of a writer of that time.

This film powerfully conveys the elements of dramedy of the original play, through the suave original score composed by Romain Trouillet. The music instills raw authenticity to the historical narration, making it a universal parable about an ambitious artist tackling with the turmoils of an ordinary man. The experience that is left with the audience is the desire to go back and read the original text and discover the nuances of the French hero par excellence: a man without beauty and ambition, but who placed his feelings above anything else…and with great panache.

With Edmond, Alexis Michalik enacts a magnificent cross-fertilization of the arts. He lyrically brings to life a work of metafiction in which theatre acquires a new dignity through motion pictures and where all the world is much more than a mere soundstage.




Glenda Jackson Reigns Supreme as a Gender-Blind King Lear

Review by Katherine R. Sloan

George Bernard Shaw declared that “No man will ever write a better tragedy than King Lear” and, according to many, he was absolutely correct. Shakespeare’s early seventeenth century masterpiece deals with tragedy in its most intimate form and is, at its core, about human failing, the unrealistic need for complete love and the quest for power. What is so unsettling are the crimes committed within a family where something akin to solidarity should exist but, to our appalling dismay, fails. Recently in previews for over a month at the Cort Theatre, King Lear officially just opened on Broadway April 4th and is a most exciting spectacle because of its lead actor: Glenda Jackson. Having Jackson play the role of not simply a man but the king—and one of theater’s greatest parts—is a gender role reversal perfect for 2019 (she brought the role to life two years ago at the Old Vic in London).

jackson as lear.jpg

After coming out of a twenty-plus year retirement and a career in politics, Jackson’s acting chops are just as compelling and captivating as we remember from her stunning films of the 1960s and ’70s. According to The New York Times she is still the “mightiest of them all.” Her performances in such films as Women In Love (1969) and A Touch of Class (1973) (both of which garnered her Best Actress Academy Awards) remain in the imagination as paradigms of daring female energy. Now that she’s 82 years old, Jackson possesses an even more palpable essence of power and prowess. Instead of a uniquely feminine energy, she brings a ferocity to Lear that is without gender and, ultimately, human. When she takes on a Shakespearean role we have complete faith in her vision and understanding of the part: we feel her greed, wrath, madness and, in the last minutes of the play, her heartbreak. As Jackson recently expressed while promoting the play, the ultimate tragedy of King Lear is the realization of love only when it’s too late (Lear dies of a broken heart upon holding Cordelia’s dead body in his arms). With over 1,000 lines, it’s staggering to behold Jackson’s boundless vitality and seemingly effortless projection of some of the finest sentences to exist in the English language.

Under the direction of Sam Gold (Hamlet for The Public Theater, Othello for the New York Theatre Workshop) with original music composed by Philip Glass and costumes designed by the legendary Ann Roth, this version of King Lear has classic, well-honed talent on display along with a great deal of inclusion and modern touches. Russell Harvard (who plays the Duke of Cornwall) is deaf so the use of sign language is employed throughout and, other than Ms. Jackson as Lear, a second male role is played by a female actor with Jayne Houdyshell as the Duke of Gloucester. Roth’s costuming choices add a wonderful flair of sophistication as Jackson dons smart tailored suits and shiny patent leather loafers (until Lear descends into madness and is dressed in torn pajamas and a garland for a crown) while Elizabeth Marvel (House of Cards, Law & Order: SVU) has tattoos on display as Goneril. The women all wear trousers and full-on pantsuits with tunics as short dresses paired with high-heeled boots instead of corsets throughout (although all three daughters wear more traditional, jewel-toned regalia during the first scene where Lear divides his kingdom among them).

The second most rewarding performance is given by Ruth Wilson (The Affair) as she, per tradition, portrays both Cordelia and the Fool. Her Fool is extremely reminiscent of Charlie Chaplin’s little tramp with a Cockney accent and, upon watching, is a delight as she has the energy and physicality of a teenage boy. Wilson’s Fool supplies comic relief but, as we discover later, also has a great deal of depth and is not foolish at all. On the contrary, Wilson’s Fool is quite brilliant. One of the directorial liberties taken by Gold is that he seems to be letting the audience in on the secret that, yes, Cordelia is the Fool.

glenda jackson and fool.jpg

This is never blatantly stated and no direct theatrical evidence points to the fact that these characters were written as one and the same by Shakespeare but that they are simply played by the same actor out of convenience (as they share none of the same scenes) although Lear does state, upon seeing Cordelia’s dead body, “And my poor fool is hanged.” This utterance serves as more than a hint that Cordelia is the Fool in disguise and that Lear knows this. In this production of Lear Wilson (as the Fool) removes her wig and reveals to us her true identity as that of the King’s daughter, Cordelia. This decision by Gold adds another layer to Cordelia’s steadfast, genuine love towards her father thus making the Cordelia/Lear relationship deeper and her subsequent death even more poignant and tragic.

This production of King Lear has all the Shakespearean elements that make going to the theater awe-inspiring, frightening and exciting. With the epic storm scene where Lear literally rages against the natural elements, a deceitful and carnal affair between Edmund (Pedro Pascal of Game of Thrones fame) and the two malevolent sisters, extreme violence (the scene where Gloucester’s eyes are gouged out is wonderfully done but not for the faint of heart) and death, there is never a minute where action and raw entertainment coupled with superb language are lacking. All of these happenings are just as Shakespeare wrote them but are modernized to be even more salacious at times (there’s a satisfyingly raucous sex romp between Edmund and Goneril) while some aspects are almost an afterthought (as Regan—played by Aisling O’Sullivan—is poisoned and dies in the background). The most overwrought part of the play comes at the end when Cordelia is hanged and, justifiably so, but, if just for a moment as she’s lowered onto center stage with a noose around her neck, it seems that, although very effective, this could have been done with a bit more finesse and subtlety.

Shakespeare is not easy-going theater: one’s ears must remain pricked throughout as tensions run high and complexities grow ever higher. One of the most refreshing aspects of true art is its ability to reflect the most intense, beautiful and terrifying characteristics of life and what it means for even the most powerful among us to be proved fallible. In his 1816 poem On Sitting Down to Read King Lear Once Again John Keats writes of delaying his own writing in order to enjoy one of his greatest inspirations and, in the last line, states: “Give me new phoenix wings to fly at my desire.” This implies that Keats hoped for a more effective way of writing poetry and that King Lear was a work of art that could provide him what he needed in order to continue creating. Upon seeing King Lear on Broadway the audience is rewarded not only with one of the greatest spectacles ever written for the stage but, with Glenda Jackson as the lead, one of the most impressive and exhilarating portrayals of Shakespeare’s tragic king.






Sarà il caos — It Will Be Chaos, Exclusive Interview with the Filmmakers

Sarà il caos — It Will Be Chaos, Exclusive Interview with the Filmmakers

Partners in life and in filmmaking, Lorena Luciano and Filippo Piscopo, have always made documentaries that would spread awareness on social justice, human rights, the environment, and the arts. Their most recent work, It Will Be Chaos (Sarà il caos) is an HBO documentary, in Association with Film2, that depicts how life in the South of Italy is thrown into disarray as refugees arrive by the thousands.

Memorializing Melancholy - A Retrospective on the Beginning of Barry Jenkins' Trilogy of Black Masculine Intimacy

Memorializing Melancholy - A Retrospective on the Beginning of Barry Jenkins' Trilogy of Black Masculine Intimacy

Jenkins’ latest feature, an adaptation of James Baldwin’s If Beale Street Could Talk, concludes what can be considered a Trilogy of Black Masculine Intimacies. All three of Jenkins’ features assume a position about intimacy, more specifically a position about the shared romantic, albeit often warped, intimacies of Black men.

We deserve more than a corny, highly processed past: Ishmael Reed’s “The Haunting of Lin-Manuel Miranda”

We deserve more than a corny, highly processed past: Ishmael Reed’s “The Haunting of Lin-Manuel Miranda”

During the 2016 election, I worked at a large, well known national nonprofit. The organization was firmly part of the political establishment, and among my colleagues, getting tickets to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s frequently sold-out musical “Hamilton” was a marker of social status on par with visiting Cuba in the wake of the warming of Cuba-US relationships. I personally never really understood the appeal of Hamilton. It was everywhere, so I had of course listened to parts of the soundtrack, but it never appealed to me. Overdone. Corny. Yet it sparked something in others.

A Lesson In Love: Barry Jenkins’ If Beale Street Could Talk

A Lesson In Love: Barry Jenkins’ If Beale Street Could Talk

The first time I saw Kiki Layne perform, I was 17 years old. She was playing Oya in a production of “In The Red and Brown Water,” and I was running props backstage. I remember seeing her in this powerful role and thinking, “Wow. She is going to be famous. She has to be.” When I saw that this year, she was starring in Barry Jenkins’ newest feature film, I knew that “If Beale Street Could Talk” would be a must-see movie. I settled into a plush movie theatre seat last week and was drawn into a delicate, honest, and dynamic romantic drama that James Baldwin would have been proud to witness.

Towards a historical materialist theatre: Aimé Césaire’s Dramatic Works and the Representation of History

Towards a historical materialist theatre: Aimé Césaire’s Dramatic Works and the Representation of History

Theater in the English speaking world is not doing well. Our dramas are suffused with hock-Freudian placidity and overwhelmingly proud of their lack of any desire to look beyond the scope of a single family or relationship between individuals. Our comedies are not funny and rarely comical in their lack of humour, while our fantasies (musical or otherwise) are limited to a slightly more functional update of the world as it stands, unsurprising given how many of them function as adaptations of Disney films that functioned, even when originally released, as soporifics. If you are looking for visions of a future world better than this one, stay as far as you can from the theaters of Broadway or the West End.

A Star Is Born: A Showcase of True Stardom

A Star Is Born: A Showcase of True Stardom

I have been counting down the days to the opening of A Star is Born, teased by the alluring trailer which so well paints the image of an enticing music-meets-love story. With the trailer flashing scenes of the talented dreamboat Bradley Cooper, fashioned like the dingy, drunken country star I always found secretly charming, and the iconic Lady Gaga flawlessly belting the earworm ‘Shallow’, I knew that this was going to be the movie to look out for. I hyped myself up for a love story full of song and fun; when I hit the theater the weekend A Star Is Born opened, I had no idea that I was headed for a nearly perfect storytelling of love, passion, sacrifice, and disease.

Allowing for Context: A Constitution in Dialogue with the Present

Allowing for Context: A Constitution in Dialogue with the Present

Last Sunday evening at New York Theater Workshop, Heidi Schreck, playwright of What the Constitution Means to Me, walked on stage and the house lights dimmed imperceptibly. The confirmation hearing of, now, Justice Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court had taken place only one day prior. But Schreck doesn’t make us forget the outside; in fact, she keeps that door open and thanks us for being there during this time. This play only grows when the context of our reality bleeds into the room, it feeds on the here and now, unflinching from one of the more dire truths we find ourselves facing: the US Constitution is in need of attention and we must decide if we are to stand by it, or to cast it aside.

Photo by: Joan Marcus

Crazy Rich Asians Review

Crazy Rich Asians Review

Crazy Rich Asians is this summer’s movie bravado, it has the green light to end the stereotypes of Asian Americans allowing full range performances, and it has now been proven that Asian actors of color in an American produced film can turn a profit. See how Justin Lin has created a multi-cultural movie template (not just Asian) actors with great success.  Our fav figure Awkwafina, a NYC educated sassy upbeat Streetwise Rich gal  in the movie that adds a funky great comedic  point that helps relieve the tension of the filthy rich but is pretty stinkin’ rich herself as the film unravels into many musical scenes full of nostalgia and dreamy costumes for lavish hedonistic Asians to drool over, but as we covet the lifestyles of the rich  we blame the media for underrepresenting us all at the same time…how ironic we just aim  to be wannabes=  super successful =rich.

BlacKkKlansman Review

BlacKkKlansman Review

Hate conversation and racial slurs were a small part of the tactics Colorado-based undercover detective Ron Stallworth used to infiltrate the Klu Klux Klan in the 1970’s. The true story of the African American cop is the inspiration for the comedic and shocking Spike Lee directed film Blackkklansman.

The new critically acclaimed film is one of Spike Lee’s best, contending with his 1990’s blockbuster movies (Malcolm X, Jungle Fever), pushing the limits on social issues including racism, community and police brutality.

Gabrielle Union Lands Breakout Action Role in Thriller Breaking In

Gabrielle Union Lands Breakout Action Role in Thriller Breaking In

Throwing weapons and breaking glass are just a few of the things Shaun Russell does to rescue her children in the action thriller Breaking In. Gabrielle Union who plays Shaun takes on money seeking intruders using her wit and household weapons. Union, known for romantic comedy movies and the hit BET show, Being Mary Jane, takes on a new role requiring her to transition her drama techniques into physical warfare to defeat the burglars taking over her house.

Avengers: Infinity War Brings Black Panther Back to the Big Screen with Confusing Ending

Avengers: Infinity War Brings Black Panther Back to the Big Screen with Confusing Ending

Comic book and Sci-Fi lovers get to see Marvel Comics characters unite to save the universe in the epic action movie, Avengers: Infinity War. The nail biting thriller will keep movie goers on the edge of their seats while watching amazing fight scenes and battleground action on the big screen. 

Byron Allen Produced “Chappaquiddick” Breathes New Life Into Kennedy Scandal

Byron Allen Produced “Chappaquiddick” Breathes New Life Into Kennedy Scandal

          There are scenes that speak to Sen. Kennedy’s inadequacies from being the brother of a former President and a popular politician. Sen. Kennedy also had a strained relationship with his father.

The reenactment of the car being pulled the car out of the river and the reaction of the diver and the town sheriff show the shock of the town and how political power and selfishness can collide with society. 

Millennial on Millennium Approaches and Peroistrika

Millennial on Millennium Approaches and Peroistrika

          For many theatergoers this season’s revival of Tony Kushner’s Angels in America: Millennium Approaches and Pareoistrika, now playing in repertory in a limited engagement at the Neil Simon Theatre, can seem like a veritable theatrical marathon. The two shows, which run for a total of 7.5 hours and can be seen in either one full day or split between two, takes about as much time as it does to fly to Europe or binge-watch an entire mini-series.

Nijinsky

Nijinsky

 The National Ballet of Canadian performance of John Neumeier’s Nijinsky opened last Tuesday April 3 for its short run at the S.F. Opera House, through Sunday April 8, at 2:00, and it’s not to be missed. While I love ballet, I don’t go that often. Yet I followed my intuition and bought balcony tickets for the premiere and I have never been so grateful for my 6th sense as I stood with the crowd calling bravo as the curtains billowed and the dancers made their final bows. 

An End to Repetitions: the violence of the breaking of the ice Review of The Death of Stalin

An End to Repetitions: the violence of the breaking of the ice Review of The Death of Stalin

The Death of Stalin, the tremendous new film directed by Armando Iannucci and based on the comic book of the same title by Fabien Nury and Thierry Robin, begins in Moscow with a performance of a Mozart piano concerto, performed superbly by the pianist Maria Veniaminovna Yudina (Olga Kurylenko), conducted by Spartak Sokolov (Justin Edwards) and transmitted through the radio by two highly
competent sound engineers (Paddy Considine and Tom Brooke).

Black Panther is Not An American Hero

Black Panther is Not An American Hero

Ryan Coogler and Michael B Jordan are the only men in film who are making movies about and for black boys. Their latest installment in this campaign, Black Panther, is a psychedelic adventure tragedy.

Marvel Comics 'Black Panther' Draws Audiences with African Royal Storyline, Tops $700 Million Worldwide in Second Week

Marvel Comics 'Black Panther' Draws Audiences with African Royal Storyline, Tops $700 Million Worldwide in Second Week

African superhero Black Panther brings movie magic into reality with sold out theaters and record-breaking box office sales around the globe.