SUNFLOWER – Henry Mancini
Original Review by Craig Lysy
Renowned producer Carlo Ponti and acclaimed actor-director Vittorio de Sica hired screenwriter Cesare Zavattini to create, in the finest traditions of Italian cinema, a tragic love story. For this grand effort they recruited the two iconic Italian actors of the day to play the principles; Sophia Loren (Giovanna) and Marcello Mastroianni (Antonio). After many incarnations and disputes between Ponti and De Sica, a final screenplay was finally achieved. It reveals the story of two lovers caught up and swept away by the unforeseeable and irresistible currents of history. Sunflower, known in its original Italian as I Girasoli, is set in a small town in the southern Calabria region of Italy in the waning months of World War II.
We witness two lovers, who in a chance meeting, fall in love in a whirlwind romance during Antonio’s 12-day military leave. Caught up in the passion of love, they impulsively decide to get married, only to see Antonio deploy to the Russian front. A distraught Giovanna despairs as the war ends and years pass with no word heard from Antonio. Refusing to accept her circumstances, she finally resolves to go to Russia to find him, bearing a photograph. She starts in the small town near the winter battle where he was last known to be. After a long and often futile search she at last finds him. Unknown to her is that Antonio had almost died in the war, suffered temporary amnesia and had married the woman whose love nursed him back to life. Her recognition of this when she meets his other wife Masha is just heart wrenching and she flees back to Italy. Years later when Antonio returns to the bed of his gravely ill mother, he decides to see Giovanni again, not knowing that she had moved on with her life, married and had a son. The reunion reveals that despite it all they remained in love. Yet a tearful Giovanna knows that there can be no new beginnings and tells Antonio that they must accept their fate for the sake of their families. This was Italian tragedy at its best.
Ponti sought out Henry Mancini, who was in his prime, to score his film. Mancini quickly realized that he was presented with a significant challenge given the passion called for in the script, the raw emotions that would be laid bare, the talent of the iconic principles, and the settings in both Italy and Russia. He understood that his music could not be aloof or circumspect and that all the powerful emotions would need to be expressed in the notes. As such he created a multi-thematic score, which I believe succeed on all counts. Given that this was an intimate story, he used a smaller ensemble that often featured passages by solo instruments including guitar, piano, violin, flute and accordion. The score is underpinned by three primary, and two secondary themes. The first and most dominant theme is Giovanna’s Theme, which speaks to her love of Antonio. This love theme flows with Mancini’s customary carefree gentility, but beneath the notes and within its core we feel a hidden sadness. Throughout the score the theme finds varied expression from piano, lush strings, harpsichord, or accordion with guitar. The second theme is Masha’s Theme, which speaks to her love for Antonio. Her theme while also romantic is juxtaposed to Giovanna’s Theme in that it is more overtly sad, but beneath the notes and within its core resides hope, hope that Antonio will one day love her as she loves him. This juxtaposition by Mancini attests to his brilliance. The third primary theme is the Search Theme, which unfolds with both sadness and futility as a valzer di tristezza. Mancini utilized balalaikas to support the imagery of the Russian countryside as Giovanna toiled in her seemingly hopeless search. Secondary themes include the Retreat Theme, a grim Marcia Funebre that speaks to the collapse and separation of a suffering Antonio from his comrades as they retreat across the brutal windswept Russian steppes. Lastly there is the New Life Theme, a carefree jazz infused theme filled with a joie de vivre, which reveals a married and reconciled Giovanna enjoying life. The score was widely praised by critics and earned Mancini an Oscar nomination, which lost out in the end to Francis Lai’s “Love Story” .
“Main Title” opens over a panoramic view of a vast field of sunflowers and plays over the credits. For me this is a score highlight, which features a full presentation of Giovanna’s Theme. The unabashed romanticism of this cue is wondrous and perfectly establishes the film’s mood. Mancini’s music emotes a distinctly Italian ambiance as we see in “Love in the Sand” Giovanna surrendering to Antonio on the beach. The romantic moment is supported with a delicate and tender rendering of her theme. For “The Wedding Night” Mancini supports the scene with a more intimate rendering of Giovanna’s Theme born by guitar, accordion and drums. The war and the outside world disappear, rendered distant and unimportant by the wondrous gentility of his music. I just love this cue.
“The Retreat” is a score highlight, which reveals Giovanna at the train station bearing a photograph of Antonio that she hopes a returning soldier will recognize. Fate would have it that one soldier in fact does, and he recounts how he was forced to leave Antonio behind as he himself struggled to survive the horrific snowbound retreat. We bear witness to the only expression of the Retreat Theme, expressed as an oppressive and unrelenting Marcia Funebre, which powerfully emotes the dread, suffering and hopelessness of Antonio’s plight. In “The Search” we are provided another score highlight as Mancini expresses his Search Theme with all its beauty. We see Giovanna in Russia seeking her husband and being directed to a vast field of sunflowers in the countryside where hundreds of Germans and Italian soldiers were buried, yet she is undeterred and resolute in her determination to find Antonio alive. The scenes of her searching are supported by the Search Theme, which flows as a valzer di tristezza that perfectly expresses the sense of hopelessness and apparent futility of Giovanna’s quest. Although the Retreat and Search Themes are attuned to Antonio and Giovanna respectively, they are never the less kindred in their expression of dread, hopelessness and futility. This to me attests to Mancini’s mastery of his craft.
In “Son of the Search” the Search Theme reprises as Giovanna continues her search for Antonio in other villages. We here a solo flute doloroso render Giovanna’s Theme as she walks through a cemetery with a vast sea of crosses. “Tu Sei Italiano?” reveals Giovanna gaining a ray of hope as she encounters an Italian man who has adopted a Russian identity. A more intimate rendering of the Search Theme, which closes with harmonic strings, supports the scene. “Without Hopes” is a powerful scene where Giovanna at last comes upon a village that recognizes Antonio’s photograph, yet tension is sowed when she is directed to the home of a beautiful young Russian woman named Masha. A final and more intense rendering of the Search Theme informs us that Giovanna’s journey is over. The quickening tempo of the theme as she nears Masha’s house speaks to her anticipation and relief that her quest is ending. This shift in tempo is well conceived.
“Masha”, is a pivotal scene, which features interplay of the two love themes. Masha quickly concludes who Giovanna is and invites her into her home. Masha’s Theme is introduced as a sad yet gentile rendering by solo accordion, which gives way to a tentative Giovanna’s Theme that ends in dissonance as she sees Masha’s and Antonio’s bed. This again is well conceived. “Masha Finds Antonio” is a flashback scene where we see Masha dragging Antonio’s near dead body through the snow to her cabin where she revives and saves his life. This cue is a score highlight where Mancini provides us with a full and extended rendering of Masha’s Theme. After a hesitant beginning the expression of her theme here is exquisite in its unabashed romanticism. The adornment of its expression with accents of balalaika fully emotes her Russian nature, thus highlighting the contrasting duality of Antonio’s two loves. I just love this cue! “The Station” is a wrenching scene where we see a distraught Giovanna board a train after she and Antonio lock eyes. She is heartbroken, overcome and unable to bear meeting him. The dark music slowly builds and we experience her heartache in her theme’s tragic expression, which ends with a fleeting statement of Masha’s Theme on French horns. This was a nice touch!
“The Broken Photo” reveals Giovanna back home in Italy tearing up all photographs of Antonio. Mancini supports the pain of this scene with her theme rendered plaintively by solo piano. In “Giovanna’s New Life” we see that she has moved on with her life and taken a new lover. As she rides a motorcycle with her new husband we hear the upbeat New Life Theme, which informs us that all is well with Giovanna. “The Visit of the Mama” displays Antonio’s mother’s visit and her dismay when she sees all the photographs of her son are gone. The gentle rendering of the Love Theme on guitar plays as Giovanna explains what has happened to Antonio. In “Antonio’s Flashback” we see Antonio have a flashback of Giovanna’s tragic departure. Her theme plays on remorseful strings to support the moment. We see Antonio relocate his family in “New Home In Moscow”, which Mancini scores with festive Russian folk music. In “Masha And Antonio” Masha senses Antonio’s inner pain and regret and we hear a plaintive rendering of her theme, which speaks to the sadness of their situation.
“The Appointment” reveals Antonio’s return to Italy to visit his ailing mother. He arranges a visit to see Giovanna, unaware that she is now married with a son. Mancini supports the meeting with an intimate, yet sad statement of her theme on piano and guitar. “The Invitation” is a just wonderful Italian piece that features a beautiful romantic statement for solo violin. It plays as Antonio, despondent over his circumstances, accepts an invitation from a prostitute, which he ultimately decides not to consummate. We come to another score highlight in “The Parting in Milan” where we are treated to the most powerful and expressive rendering of Giovanna’s Theme as the lovers hug one last time and decide to part forever for the sake of their families. The theme opens tentatively with sadness upon solo guitar, transfers to piano atop a bridge of strings, and finally swells for a dramatic and lush statement by full orchestra. The “End Titles” fittingly completes our journey with a final statement of Giovanna’s Theme.
“Love Theme from “Sunflower” is a bonus cue which features a tender expression of Giovanna’s Theme on solo piano, performed by Henry Mancini. Finally we have in “Loss Of Love” a soft and tender song version of Giovanna’s Theme with lyrics by Bob Merrill and an uncredited singer. Disc two contains the tracks of the original soundtrack release.
I must thank Jose Benitez and Quartet Records and Studio Canal for this most welcome premiere release of the complete score for this classic film. The sound is wonderful thanks to expert mastering by Claudio Fuiano from the first generation mono tapes. This is a romantic classic carried by not one, but two beautiful love themes. The additional themes are also just exceptional in their conception and expression, fully emoting the pathos of the fate that overcame and befell our lovers. Mancini’s writing for a small orchestra with many passages by solo instruments is perfectly attenuated to the film’s imagery. He masterfully captures the intimacy of this tale with a simplicity, grace and beauty not always found in today’s scores. I believe this intimate and touching score is well worth your exploration and consideration for your collection.
Buy the Sunflower soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store
- Main Title (2:29)
- Love in the Sand (4:30)
- The Wedding Night (4:20)
- Last Memories (0:32)
- The Retreat (5:13)
- The Photo of Antonio (0:37)
- The Search (5:04)
- Son of the Search (0:56)
- The Cemetery (0:33)
- Tu Sei Italiano? (1:25)
- Without Hopes (1:16)
- Masha (2:12)
- Masha Finds Antonio (3:39)
- The Station (2:04)
- The Broken Photo (0:43)
- Giovanna’s New Life (0:59)
- The Visit of the Mama (1:31)
- Antonio’s Flashback (0:47)
- New Home in Moscow (1:15)
- Masha and Antonio (1:57)
- The Appointment (1:20)
- The Invitation (2:08)
- The Parting in Milan (3:27)
- End Titles (1:10)
- Love Theme from Sunflower (Demo) (1:45)
- Loss of Love (Vocal) (3:22)
- Love Theme from Sunflower – Original Soundtrack Recording Version (2:29)
- Masha’s Theme – Original Soundtrack Recording Version (1:59)
- Giovanna – Original Soundtrack Recording Version (1:58)
- The Search – Original Soundtrack Recording Version (4:22)
- Love in the Sand – Original Soundtrack Recording Version (3:04)
- New Home in Moscow – Original Soundtrack Recording Version (1:22)
- Two Girls – Original Soundtrack Recording Version (2:11)
- The Retreat – Original Soundtrack Recording Version (5:11)
- The Invitation – Original Soundtrack Recording Version (2:07)
- Masha Finds Antonio – Original Soundtrack Recording Version (3:37)
Running Time: 86 minutes 56 seconds
Quartet Records SCE057 (1970/2013)
Music composed and conducted by Henry Mancini. Orchestrations by Henry Mancini. Score produced by Henry Mancini. Album produced by Jose M. Benitez.