“Cyrano, My Love,” a sweet meringue of a French costume comedy opens October 11 at Laemmle’s Royal Theatre in West LA. It’s a wonderful distraction from the news of the day. And treat your eyes to something even more profound, as The Getty Museum (Getty Center in Brentwood) opens “Manet and Modern Beauty” focusing, for the first time in a major museum exhibition, on this game-changing early modern artist’s late works.
Yes, Virginia, there really was a Savinien de Cyrano de Bergerac, a poet, playwright, libertine and duelist who strode across French soil from 1619-1655. The movie, “Cyrano, My Love,” tells the fictional origin story of Edmond Rostand’s now-classic play, “Cyrano de Bergerac,” which you may remember in film form as “Roxanne,” starring Steve Martin and Darryl Hannah.
In this lovely, frothy period piece set in 1895-1897 (Rostand lived from 1868-1918), director Alexis Michalik presents Rostand in crisis, promising one of the leading comic actors of the day, Coquelin, a hit play before having conceived of a plot or even written one line. It begins with Rostand’s friend, Sarah Bernhardt the leading French actress of the day, onstage performing a flop he’d written in verse, the audience booing, the theatre owner grousing, and the critics killing him with their outrage.
Despite the failure, Sarah introduces Rostand to Coquelin, who’s running from his debtors and needs a hit. We meet Rostand’s wife Rosemonde, his friend Leo, Leo’s love interest Maria, a costumer for Coquelin. This sets up the plot of Cyrano the movie and the actual play, with Leo, a handsome but dull actor, unable to capture Maria with the kind of romantic language she craves and that only Rostand can provide.
There’s a balcony scene, where Leo, attempting to seduce Maria, is aided by Rostand, whose declarations on Leo’s behalf make her swoon. Soon they’re writing letters to one another, Maria thinking it’s Leo she’s writing to and Rostand responding as Leo. And so she falls in love with Rostand’s words while contemplating Leo.
Cyrano, the man, was known for his exceptionally large nose and in the play, Cyrano de Bergerac has one, too, and it’s what gets in the way of winning the girl he loves. There are a number of delicious parallels in this movie, not the least of which is that it began life as a play written by director Michalik; and in the movie, he portrays one of the most successful playwrights of Rostand’s day (also a rival), Georges Feydeau.
And of course, the plot of Cyrano, the play, is about how Cyrano aids his friend to woo Roxanne, but suffers because he loves her, too.
It’s a farcical romp of a movie, with hysterical twists and turns, decked out in extraordinarily beautiful costumes and sets, the scenery itself worth the price of admission. It was filmed mostly in Prague, ironically, dressed up to look like Paris at the end of the 19th century.
Complications ensue; Rostand’s wife is sure he’s having an affair with the mystery woman who keeps writing letters to Leo at Rostand’s home. The actors keep giving everyone heartburn. The authorities come in to close the show down; the actress playing Roxanne is much too old for the part (who’d previously been involved with both of the play’s financiers). But the show must and does go on.
Cyrano de Bergerac was an instant hit in Paris, and went on to be performed 300 times following that fateful opening night. Since then there’ve been more than 20,000 performances globally; and several movies, including the aforementioned Roxanne.
Escape into the lightness, beauty and humor that is “Cyrano, My Love” at Laemmle’s Royal Theatre in West LA. https://www.laemmle.com/film/cyrano-my-love starting tomorrow.
MANET AND MODERN BEAUTY
Edouard Manet was ahead of his time in many ways. He chose to become an artist in defiance of his father’s wish for him to enter the French navy. Ignoring those wishes and enlisting the help of his uncle, he studied art and traveled to several parts of the world where he would find work by the artists who influenced him in his younger years, including Goya, Titian and Velasquez.
Early on, he was inspired by realist Gustave Courbet, and chose to depict the contemporary world around him, including scenes in bars and cafes, featuring singers, gypsies and everyday social types. Later his connection to Edgar Degas and Berthe Morisot would lead him in a more impressionistic direction.
Manet shocked the artworld with his infamous “Olympia,” a nude of a prostitute, painted in the style of Titian but far more suggestive; it scandalized Paris in the early 1860s. However, as he grew older, and as his health began failing, Manet began painting portraits, still lifes, pastels, watercolors, gardens and again, cafes.
One of the most praised works of the era, and a centerpiece of the Getty exhibition, is Jeanne, or Spring painted in 1882 (it was intended to be one of a four-part series based on the seasons that he never completed). Like a number of works from this time, he focused less on symbols of the season and more on the model, her fashionable clothes, and her decorative surroundings.
As he became further incapacitated, and left Paris for cures in the country, he found beauty in the gardens around him and the flowers friends would bring him. Making pastels and painting to the end, this period brought forth some of his most beautiful still lifes.
“Manet and Modern Beauty” will be on view at the Getty Museum in Brentwood through January 12, 2020. Visit www.getty.edu for more information.
Sarah A. Spitz is an award-winning public radio producer, now retired from KCRW, where she also produced arts stories for NPR. She writes features and reviews for various print and online publications.