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How ‘Cyrano’ Director Used Technical Cunning to Ensure the Film’s ‘Heartbeat’ Couldn’t Be Cut Out

”Making movies is all about tricks,“ Joe Wright tells TheWrap

Anyone who has seen Joe Wright’s musical “Cyrano” will no doubt remember a scene late in the film, in which three anonymous soldiers sing a drum-backed ballad called “Wherever I Fall.” The five-minute sequence, about the message each man would like sent home before he dies, beautifully accentuates the classic story’s theme about the power of language in love.

But according to Wright, the scene required an extra bit of directorial cunning to ensure it wouldn’t be cut from the film.

“Due to circumstances with our filming location in Sicily – we were near Mt. Etna, which had just erupted – we had to reduce our number of shooting days and I had to make some strategic cuts in the script,” the director told TheWrap. “And the studio said, ‘Well, you should cut that song, because it doesn’t star the main cast and it doesn’t matter as much to the central plot.'”

But Wright was determined to keep it in. “That song was incredibly moving to me,” he said. “So I managed to work it into the master shot of the dialogue scene that followed it. The camera pulls back from the three soldiers and we see Cyrano (Peter Dinklage) and Christian (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) have been present all along, just offscreen. So with those two guys in the shot, it would be impossible for the studio to cut.”

Wright added with a laugh, “Making movies is all about tricks.”

You can listen to the song here.

The song was written by members of the Brooklyn-based rock group The National (the song’s music is by Aaron Dessner and Bryce Dessner; lyrics by Matt Berninger and Carin Besser), originally for Erica Schmidt’s 2018 stage musical of “Cyrano.” In an interview with TheWrap’s Brian Welk in December, the band said that they consider “Wherever I Fall,” to be one of “the strongest songs we’ve written in our career” and a “timeless” song that they would’ve never written if not for ‘Cyrano.'”

The open-hearted, plaintive ballad is sung by three soldiers to a messenger boy who is collecting letters during the Siege of Arras in 1640. Each man dedicates his portion of the song to a beloved person: one his wife, one his unrequited love, one his estranged father.

The studio was correct that “Wherever I Fall” is not sung by any of the film’s main cast, which includes Dinklage (as Cyrano de Bergerac), Haley Bennett (as Roxanne), Harrison (as Roxanne’s lover Christian) and Ben Mendelsohn (as the villainous De Guiche). Individually or together, they sing all the songs in the movie, except for this one.

In a trio of affecting miniature performances, the soldiers of “Wherever I Fall” are played by the Irish singer-songwriter Glen Hansard (an Oscar winner with Marketa Irglova in 2008 for “Falling Slowly” from “Once,” which was recently covered on “Emily in Paris”); American singer-songwriter Sam Amidon, who has released seven albums and performed with The National; and British actor and singer Scott Folan, recently the star of the London stage production of “Be More Chill.”

Glen Hansard in “Cyrano” (MGMUnited Artists Releasing)
Sam Amidon in “Cyrano” (MGMUnited Artists Releasing)
Scott Folan in “Cyrano” (MGMUnited Artists Releasing)

The musical sequence only includes a few edits, as Wright and longtime cinematographer Seamus McGarvey (“Atonement,” “Anna Karenina”) opted to film the three actors in intimate close-ups. And then, after Folan has finished his part of the song, the three soldiers stand up to exit the barracks, and the camera pulls back to reveal Dinklage and Harrison in the foreground.

Or as Wright referred to the shot, “My little insurance policy against having it cut out. I think that song is really the heartbeat of the whole film.”

Kelvin Harrison Jr. and Peter Dinklage in “Cyrano” (MGM/United Artists Releasing)

Wright raved about the use of close-ups in films, specifically in this scene and another one between Dinklage and Bennett (the director’s real-life partner) near the close of the movie.

“I love the human face and I love close-ups,” he said. “There’s nothing more powerful in the cinema that a close-up. I think about Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard in “Brief Encounter.” People ask me what my favorite shots in my own movies are and I think they expect me to say some extravagant Steadicam shot or something.”

He continued, “Well, no. In ‘Cyrano,’ my favorite shots are at the end, with Haley (Bennett) and Pete (Dinklage) sitting on the bench and talking at the end of the movie. It’s just a simple two-shot. Just their faces. Nothing more.

And Wright also says that the close ups relate to our experience of human connection, especially over the last two years.

“The whole film is a response to the pandemic in a way,” he said. “It’s felt really essential that the film, at its core, be about how important it is to connect as individuals. It was amazing that we were able to connect as fellow artists and bring out that passionate spirit in the face of adversity. And have the audience connect to the film – that’s exactly why I do it.”

“Cyrano” is playing in theaters and is available for rent on Spectrum on Demand.