February 13, 2013

Cyrano de Bergerac

February 13, 2013 Photo of the day:
"Pour ton bonheur, je donnerais le mien"
("For your happiness, I would give my own")
~ Cyrano de Bergerac Act III, Scene 7

As I mentioned, my French IV students are studying the cultural, political, economic, and artistic aspects of 17th Century France as illustrated in Jean-Paul Rappeneau's brilliant 1990 film adaptation of Edmond Rostand's play, Cyrano de Bergerac. In case you're unfamiliar with the play or the film, it is a fictionalized account of Hercule-Savinien de Cyrano de Bergerac, a French dualist and dramatist. It is the story of love and war, of physical versus inner beauty. Cyrano is a talented soldier, a remarkable duelist, and a gifted poet. However, his talent is overshadowed by his unfortunate physical appearance, namely his ridiculously large nose. Cyrano is in love with the beautiful and intellectual Roxane (OK, I'll wait...You know you want to sing it: "Roxxxxane, you don't have to put on the red light..."), but alas, she is infatuated with the devastatingly handsome Christian. Despite his disappointment, Cyrano promises to protect his young rival. Upon discovering that Christian is as ineloquent as he is handsome, Cyrano also serves as ghost writer of the most romantic letters that Christian, in turn, uses to woo Roxane. The entire play is written in Alexandrine verse (rhyming couplets of twelve syllables). The 1990 film is particularly extraordinary since even the English subtitles, written by Anthony Burgess (author of A Clockwork Orange), maintain the original poetic form. France's renowned and often controversial actor, Gérard Dépardieu, won a César for his portrayal of Cyrano, and he was also nominated for a best actor Oscar, a rare honor for a non-English speaking role.

My students have done character and poetry analyses. They have written reflections on whether they would be more attracted to someone who is physically beautiful or to someone with a great personality. They have compared the balcony scenes in Romeo and Juliet and Cyrano de Bergerac (featured in today's photo), and tomorrow for Valentine's Day, they will write love letters to Roxane emulating either Cyrano's or Christian's style. I love teaching this unit! The film illustrates so many historical and cultural concepts that we have studied, including the influence of Cardinal Richelieu and the Academie française, the war between the French and the Spanish, and the rise of the literary salons and the theatre. It is so exciting to see my students rooting for the underdog while learning to appreciate French literature and film!