It wasn't the nose. It wasn't the wit. It wasn't the romance. It was the solitude.
In "Cyrano de Bergerac," director Jean-Paul Rappeneau saw not a great romantic -- but a big-time lonely guy.
"This appealed to me," said Rappeneau, speaking from Paris through an interpreter, "a man imprisoned in his own solitude. The authentic Cyrano was an artist who lived alone and died alone. There's something about the death of an artist that I can relate to. I too am a solitary and as Cyrano tries to fight his own loneliness, I try to fight mine."
Whatever, the least lonely place in the world of late happens to be the theaters where Rappeneau's "Cyrano" is playing. The movie has been not just a French but a world sensation, and is widely expected to earn a nomination as best foreign film in next week's Academy Award announcements. A nomination for Rappeneau's Cyrano, Gerard Depardieu, is also expected.
"I thought first of doing a 'Cyrano,' " said Rappeneau. "And the next morning, I thought of Gerard."
Depardieu was so wrong for the part he was absolutely right, says the French director.
"The men who've played Cyrano have always been 'sophisticated,' including Jose Ferrer and the French actor Claud Dauphin in a 1947 version which was an absolute horror. I wanted someone who was brutal and scary. I wanted to take this 'Cyrano' as far from the cliche as possible. He was, after all, not merely a poet but a killer, and I wanted that part of him on screen also."
Rappeneau, who began his career in 1959 as a screenwriter (he wrote the classic "That Man from Rio," for Jean-Paul Belmondo) had never attempted a project as gigantic as the $20 million production.
"I had a great deal of trouble getting backing. The producers were all scared; and that scared me so much that I myself almost abandoned it."
But he prevailed, ultimately creating the most lavish "Cyrano" ever.
"All the interiors were done on sound stages in Budapest," he says. "But to find fragments of 17th-century France, my assistant put a full year into research and drove over 40,000 kilometers. What you see on screen isn't a coherent setting at all; rather, it's an assemblage of streets and houses in not only France but Italy, Spain and Germany."
It results, as all who see it will certainly agree, in a movie with extraordinary panache.