Director Jean-Paul Rappeneau has done for ''Cyrano de Bergerac'' what Franco Zeffirelli did for ''Hamlet.'' Zeffirelli's screen version of the Shakespearean tragedy, continuing at local theaters, has been done with immense style, enough to make us care for the characters anew.
Rappeneau does the same for ''Cyrano,'' which was written by Edmond Rostand and was first produced in Paris 93 years ago. The play, done with frequency on the American stage, was done as a film in 1950, with Jose Ferrer as the 17th century fighter-poet with the outsize nose.
Gerard Depardieu stars in the new version, one that was done in France. If they can't seem to make films in France without Depardieu, ''Cyrano'' may explain why. Depardieu hasn't really had a chance to show what he can do on screen. In the new film, he does, and he is immense, in more ways than one.
As the soldier who loves Roxanne but is afraid to declare that love, Depardieu does the role with swagger, good humor and compassion.
Anne Brochet is Roxane, who loves Christian for the poet she thinks he is. Actually, it is Cyrano who is writing all those love letters for Christian, but Roxane will never know, not until it is too late.
One of the more admirable things about the movie is that it moves with such breezy style. Rappeneau is not given to fill footage. His movie may be long, but he makes every frame count, even the closing in which Cyrano, finally exposed as the author of those letters, dies.
The battle scenes are well staged, and the score is fitting. Rappeneau proves, as did Zeffirelli, that an old tale can be made to look new and exciting.
Rappeneau and Jean-Claude Carriere did the adaptation. The comic touches they have added are completely in keeping with the mood of the film.
''Cyrano de Bergerac'' opens today at the Charles Theater. If there is any regret, it is that Rappeneau chose to shoot the film in conventional dimension rather than wide screen.
''Cyrano de Bergerac'' **** Gerard Depardieu is the 17th century poet-fighter who loves Roxane but will never declare that love for fear of rejection.
CAST: Gerard Depardieu, Anne Brochet, Vincent Perez, Jacques Weber
DIRECTOR: Jean-Paul Rappeneau
RATING: PG (violence)
) RUNNING TIME: 138 minutes