PASSION – Pino Donaggio
Original Review by Jonathan Broxton
The career of Brian De Palma confounds me. From his early-career highs crafting masterpiece movies such as Carrie, Dressed to Kill, Blow-Out and Scarface, in recent years his output has consisted mainly of a series of tawdry sex thrillers that either bomb at the box office, or go straight to video – The Black Dahlia, Femme Fatale, Redacted, and so on. His technical mastery remains unmatched however, as his latest film, Passion, attests. It’s a tawdry sexy thriller (of course), a remake of the 2010 French language film Crime d’Amour, and stars Noomi Rapace as Isabelle, an ambitious up-and-coming executive at an international company, who constantly suffers a series of professional and personal humiliations at the hands of her boss, Christine, played by Rachel McAdams. The tables begin to turn when Isabelle – who is secretly sleeping with Christine’s boyfriend Dirk (Paul Anderson) – hatches a plot to finally seek revenge on the manipulative Christine, one of the key parts of which is to seduce Christine herself…
One constant of Brian De Palma’s career is his consistent employment of outstanding composers, who go on to create great scores for his films. John Williams scored The Fury, Ennio Morricone scored Casualties of War, The Untouchables and Mission to Mars, and Patrick Doyle scored Carlito’s Way, but by far his most regular collaborator over the years has been Italian composer Pino Donaggio, who contributed music to films including the aforementioned Carrie, Dressed to Kill and Blow-Out, as well as Home Movies and Raising Cain, amongst others. Donaggio has largely been absent from the international scoring scene for nearly a decade, emerging only occasionally through an art house hit like Up at the Villa, or an acclaimed foreign language feature like the 2008 Dutch drama Oorlogswinter. However, throughout his 40-year career, Donaggio’s elegant and dramatic music has been of constantly high standard, often surpassing the quality of the film he is scoring, and Passion is very much in that vein.
Passion is a classic erotic thriller score, filled to the brim with effortlessly seductive themes, classy romance, and no small amount of drama and tension, performed superbly by the Czech National Symphony Orchestra under the baton of his long-time collaborator, conductor Natale Massara. Donaggio’s music has that perfect combination of innocence and intrigue which makes it completely compelling and hugely enjoyable, capturing the characters of Christine and Isabelle as they move from being rivals, both at the office and in the bedroom, to lovers, and more.
Each cue of the album presents a different musical aspect of the film, with the exception of the recurring “Passion Theme”, which I’ll get to later. The opening piece, “Twin Souls”, is a mischievous dance which passes a sprightly melody throughout the various parts of woodwind and string sections, and includes an especially notable bouncing oboe element which is very reminiscent of Rachel Portman’s early work. “The Breakdown” is a more intimate piano-led piece which has a melancholy, introverted feel, beautifully stated, but with a definite hint of sadness to its tone and progressions. When a viola picks up the melody in the cue’s final third, the power of the sadness is clearly apparent.
Later, “Back Issues” is an unusual diversion of retro-jazz filtered through Donaggio’s 1960s Italiano sensibilities, again featuring a prominent brass section, an über-cool electric guitar, and fat percussive beats; this segues into the more tension-filled “Know That Know”, which uses the similar percussive beats from the previous cue, but plays them as a heartbeat pulse underneath edgy string sustains that elicit an air of oppression, and a strangely whimsical flute figure which weaves in and out of the music with a pseudo-Goldsmith Basic Instinct vibe.
“A Dreamer’s Dream” plays around with harp glissandi offset against more moody string and flute writing, further enhancing the mood of enticing edginess, that classic combination of seduce and murder. “Perversions and Diversions” is an honest-to-god old-fashioned sex theme, a wonderful throwback to all those great 1990s Cinemax cable TV scores written by George S. Clinton and Ashley Irwin, which were themselves inspired by the classic erotic thriller score, John Barry’s Body Heat from 1980. The cue oozes sultry seductiveness, and even when he breaks out the old soprano saxophone, the sound is appropriately enticing when it could have easily been a complete cliché.
“Higher Heels” is a slightly-dated sounding disco piece that can be skipped over and is the score’s low point; the 8-minute “Journey Through a Nightmare” is its complete antithesis, a slow-burning piece of engrossing suspense that begins softly with precise string scales, flute accents, and gentle chimes, but gradually builds into an outstanding fugue-like assault on the senses, forcefully led by a bank of strident, powerful, thrusting violins that are not too dissimilar from those that John Williams wrote for The Fury back in the late 1970s.
However, the centerpiece of the score is the aforementioned “Passion Theme”, which first appears in the eponymous third cue, and later forms the core of the equally lovely “The Last Drop”. A lush, expressive theme for the full orchestra but led by piano and strings, it’s one of the most beautiful pieces I’ve heard from Donaggio in quite some time, capturing perfectly the passionate love triangle at the very core of the film. Donaggio is a composer who is not afraid to let the emotion of the film reflect fully in his music, and Brian De Palma should be applauded for allowing his composer to express that emotion in such a powerful and direct way, in contrast to the pervasive thinking that seems to dominate most mainstream Hollywood scores these days.
The final cue’ “Last Surprise”, restates both the Breakdown and Passion themes as a coda to the action which is really exquisite. Rounding out the score is a lovely performance of Debussy’s classic 1894 tone poem “Prélude à l’Après-Midi d’Un Faune”, performed by the Berliner Philharmoniker conducted by the legendary Sir Simon Rattle, furthering the album’s sense of sophistication and style. All in all, this is a very enjoyable and thoroughly entertaining score for a film which really shouldn’t have music this good. Pino Donaggio and the small group of other composers who write in his mode are a dying breed in cinema these days – composers who are not afraid to endow their films with music that accentuates, not diminishes the emotion – the passion – on screen, and which is expressly intended to make the audience feel, and empathize, with the characters they are watching. I absolutely recommend Passion to listeners who value this sort of writing, and who want a chance to perhaps discover the music of the great Pino Donaggio for the first time.
Buy the Passion soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store
- Twin Souls (3:09)
- The Breakdown (3:14)
- Passion Theme (4:09)
- Back Issues (1:19)
- Know that Know (4:27)
- A Dreamer’s Dream (3:15)
- Prélude à l’Après-Midi d’Un Faune (written by Claude Debussy, performed by the Berliner Philharmoniker cond. Sir Simon Rattle) (10:25)
- Perversions and Diversions (3:45)
- The Last Drop (2:16)
- Higher Heels (1:05)
- Journey Though a Nightmare (7:44)
- Last Surprise (3:16)
Running Time: 48 minutes 04 seconds
Quartet SM-023 (2013)
Music composed by Pino Donaggio. Conducted by Natale Massara. Performed by Czech National Symphony Orchestra. Orchestrations by Pino Donaggio. Recorded and mixed by Marco Streccioni. Album produced by Pino Donaggio and Jose Benitez.