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.