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AMÉLIE – Yann Tiersen

November 2, 2001 Leave a comment Go to comments

amelieOriginal Review by Jonathan Broxton

Every year, it seems at least one foreign language film takes the international box office by storm, becoming the art-house crossover darling of its time. In 2000, it was Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. Before that, we had Life is Beautiful, Run Lola Run and Il Postino. This year we have Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amélie Poulain – or Amélie, as it has become known across the world. Already a massive success in its native France, Amélie subsequently raced to the top of the North American charts, has been nominated for multiple major awards, looks to be a shoo-in for the Foreign Language Film Oscar, and has increased further the reputations of its director Jean-Pierre Jeunet, leading actress Audrey Tautou, and composer Yann Tiersen.

Amélie is a whimsical, dream-like fable about a young woman in Paris (the eponymous Tautou), who has spent most of her life existing in the background, overwhelmed and overshadowed by her emotionally distant father (Rufus). All grown up and working as a waitress in a Parisian café, Amélie’s life changes when she finds a small box filled with old family heirlooms hidden in a secret compartment in her apartment. Heading off to find the box’s owner, the joy she brings to its eventual recipient gives Amélie a new lease of life, as she decides to help others around her in any way she can. However, Amélie continually neglects her own happiness while concentrating on that of others, until she meets the equally quirky Nino Quincampoix (Mathieu Kassovitz) in a photo booth. Could this handsome, shy young man be her soul mate? And, if so, will she ever find the courage to talk to him face-to-face and admit her feelings? This is Paris, the city of romance. What do you think?

Much of the charm of Amélie as a film is its hyper-reality, and pervading sense of kindness and humor. To say that this film is “feel-good” is a definite understatement. The director is the man responsible for, among other things, Delicatessen, The City of Lost Children and Alien Resurrection: hence, Amélie  has style in abundance. But one of the major talking points has been Yann Tiersen’s score, which overflows with Gallic moods and textures, while never resorting to cliché. However, to call Tiersen’s score for Amélie an “original” score is something of a misnomer, as several of the tracks on the Virgin album are pre-existing material. Jean-Pierre Jeunet was introduced to Tiersen’s music while driving with one his production assistants, who was playing a Tiersen CD in the car; Tiersen himself is an accomplished performer and recording artist, with soundtrack experience by way of the films Alice and Martin, The Dream Life of Angels, and Night Shift. However, only eight of the 20 tracks on the CD were composed originally for Amélie – the others are taken from his non-film music albums La Valse des Monstres (1995), Rue des Cascades (1996), Le Phare (1997), and his latest, L’Absente (2001).

Of the original cues, the centerpiece is “La Valse d’Amélie”, a lovely Parisienne dance which captures all the rustic flavors of the city through a delicious combination of mandolin, guitar, accordion and various vibraphones and glockenspiels. It is performed three times – as a superb instrumental piece one might here strolling down the Champs Elysees in Track 3, by the full orchestra in Track 11, and by Tiersen himself on solo piano in Track 19. Piano forms quite a bit of the underscore itself, notably in ‘Le Moulin’, one of the few melancholy pieces on the album, which develops out of a bouncy harmonica solo into a truly lovely, romantic melody.

Of the others, ‘Comptine d’un Autre Été: L’Après Midi’ and ‘Sur Le Fil’ are both lovely piano pieces that are quite reminiscent of something Georges Delerue might have written in his New Wave days. The accordion melodies in ‘La Noyée’ and the conclusive ‘La Valse des Monstres’ build up a fair head of steam by the time they finish, the latter having been seemingly influenced by Camille Saint-Saëns and his “Danse Macabre”. ‘A Quai’ is a tremendous scherzo, mixing Tiersen’s stylistics with an orchestra and an ondes martenot solo, briefly flickering memories of Elmer Bernstein’s Frankie Starlight through the brain. ‘Soir de Fête’ incorporates an almost comedic banjo line into the bounce and ‘La Redécouverte’ features a toy piano.

In fact, much of the music is performed to highlight one of Tiersen’s instrumental performances. Only occasionally does the full symphony orchestra ever enter the equation, and while this may dissuade admirers of the “big and impressive” score to give Amélie a wide berth, I personally quite like this style of scoring occasionally. With a good arranger at your side, it could be claimed that almost any old joe can do the big orchestral guff. To write something as clever and intricate as Amélie for such a small ensemble takes talent indeed.

Tiersen’s music, on the whole, is lively and cheerful, capturing the whimsical and light-hearted style of Amélie herself. In many ways, Tiersen reminds me of other European composers of light jazz such as Nicola Piovani, Luis Bacalov, Francis Lai, and Nino Rota when he wrote for Fellini. In fact, that’s probably the best term to describe both Amélie and Tiersen: Fellini-esque. If one were to make one criticism – and it is a big one, and why the rating is so low – it would be to say that the CD is quite samey. There are no conflicting emotions, few downbeat moments and nothing approaching pathos. And while, as pure music, that is not such a bad thing, when listening to a film score, I expect to hear more than just one big celebration of la belle France, lovely though it is.

Rating: ***

Track Listing:

  • J’y Suis Jamais Allé (1:34)
  • Les Jours Tristes (Instrumental) (written by Yann Tiersen and Neil Hannon) (3:03)
  • La Valse d’Amélie (2:15)
  • Comptine d’un Autre Été: L’Après Midi (2:20)
  • La Noyée (2:03)
  • L’Autre Valse d’Amélie (1:33)
  • Guilty (written by G. Khan, R.A. Whiting and H. Akst) (3:13)
  • A Quai (3:32)
  • Le Moulin (4:27)
  • Pas Si Simple (1:52)
  • La Valse d’Amélie (Orchestra Version) (2:00)
  • La Valse des Vieux Os (2:20)
  • La Dispute (4:15)
  • Si Tu N’Étais Pas Là (Fréhel) (written by P. Bayle and G. Claret)(3:29)
  • Soir de Fête (2:55)
  • La Redécouverte (1:13)
  • Sur Le Fil (4:23)
  • Le Banquet (1:31)
  • La Valse d’Amélie (Piano Version) (2:38)
  • La Valse des Monstres (3:39)

Running Time: 54 minutes 15 seconds

Virgin CDVIR-155 (2001)

Music composed and arranged by Yann Tiersen. Orchestral performances by Orchestra Synaxis. Featured musical soloists Yann Tiersen, Christian Quermalet and Christine Ott. Recorded and mixed by Fabrice Laureau. Album produced by Yann Tiersen.

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