Home > Reviews > SWIMMING POOL – Philippe Rombi

SWIMMING POOL – Philippe Rombi

swimmingpoolOriginal Review by Jonathan Broxton

Unlike twenty or thirty years ago, when composers such as Maurice Jarre and Georges Delerue were in the ascendancy, French film music today seems to be in a bit of a lull. There are certainly some extremely talented individuals writing music for French cinema at the moment – names such as Bruno Coulais, Jean-Claude Petit, Alexandre Desplat and Yann Tiersen spring to mind – but no-one from that part of the world has really taken the world by storm, in a soundtrack sense, for quite a while. This could all change if Hollywood ever discovers the work of Philippe Rombi. This album is actually subtitled “Music from the films of François Ozon”, and features score cuts from four of the talented young director’s most successful films – Swimming Pool (2003), Sous le Sable (2000), Les Amants Criminels (1999) and 8 Femmes (2002). It is Rombi’s music which dominates the CD, with sixteen minutes of his music from the headlining Swimming Pool, and a further 12 minutes of score from Sous Le Sable taking center stage.

Swimming Pool is Ozon’s first English-language film, and the first to receive wide international distribution. It stars Charlotte Rampling as Sarah Morton, a successful English mystery writer with a rather rigid and conservative private life, who spends the summer at the French home of her publisher John (Charles Dance). However, Sarah’s new-found solitude takes a dramatic twist when John’s free-spirited daughter Julie (Ludivine Sagnier) unexpectedly arrives at the chateau, kicking up a storm with her relaxed attitude to life in general, and sex in particular. Their fiery interactions set off an increasingly unsettling series of events, as Sarah’s creative process, her increasingly abundant sex life, and a possible real-life murder begin to blend dangerously together.

Obviously taking its cue from Basic Instinct, Rombi conjures up the same notions of icy sensuality for the central characters in Swimming Pool as Jerry Goldsmith did for Catherine Tramell over ten years ago. Building from a simple 5-note piano motif, performed by Rombi himself, to include a gorgeous string wash and eerily seductive female voices, the main theme is truly lovely. It plays as a superb concoction of Goldsmith’s dangerous sexiness and Bernard Herrmann’s sinister lyricism, with just a touch of Pierre Bachelet’s Gallic romance (Bachelet wrote all that wonderful music for French soft-porn classics such as Emmanuelle and The Story of O). The five-note motif is present in several of the eight cues, notably ‘Writing’ and ‘Journal Intime’, while ‘Fausse Piste’, ‘Révélation’ and ‘Méfiance’ are a little more dissonant, making good use of stark piano chords and impressionistic string lines. The conclusive ‘Flashback Meurtre’ also hitches up the tension with some high-end skittery violin work.

Sous Le Sable (aka Under the Sand) again starred Charlotte Rampling as Marie, a happily married university professor enjoying a happy vacation with her husband Jean (Bruno Cremer) in western France. However, one day, while Marie is sleeping on the beach, her husband vanishes without a trace. Unsure of his fate, Marie’s sanity begins to crumble, as she finds she is unable to cope with the notion that her husband may have run off or, worse still, be dead. Again, Rombi’s music is fully orchestral, and drenched in mystery, with darkly romantic violin passages and plaintive laments from Alain Marié’s cor anglais dominating the thematic core. More than anything else, Sous Le Sable is reminiscent of Georges Delerue’s lush score for the war film Diên Biên Phu, mirroring its inherent classicism and string-based opulence. The four minute ‘Générique’ is especially striking, featuring a brilliant but terribly sad virtuoso violin part as its centerpiece.

Described as a modern-day Hansel and Gretel, Ozon’s Les Amants Criminels (aka Criminal Lovers) is set in a small French provincial town, where bored teenagers Luc (Jeremie Renier) and Alice (Natacha Regnier) summarily decide to murder an Arabic classmate. Suddenly realizing the seriousness of their actions, they escape to the forest where they plan to bury the corpse, but encounter a deranged man who has been living alone their for years, who traps them and forces them to acknowledge the severity of their crimes. Rombi’s five minute ‘Adagio’ continues in a similar stylistic vein to Swimming Pool and Sous Le Sable by presenting a beautiful, moving, but consistently downbeat string-led theme.

Featuring an all star cast of French actresses, including Catherine Deneuve, Isabel Huppert, Emmanuelle Béart and Fanny Ardant, 8 Femmes (aka 8 Women) is a comic musical murder mystery set in an isolated, snowy French mansion in the 1950s, where the only man at a family gathering has just been killed – and the eight women who remain (his wife, his two daughters, his mother-in-law, his sister-in-law, his sister, the cook and the maid) are all suspects! Krishna Lévy’s score, which was nominated for a César Award in France in 2002, is not greatly very different to Rombi’s work, in that it maintains a stylistic consistency of tone and orchestration. It has as its centerpiece a gentle cello and piano duet, which gradually builds into a warm, inviting orchestral ballad not unlike the more introspective work of Elmer Bernstein. Having heard this, I feel I would like to explore more of Lévy’s work. It certainly leaves a lasting impression.

The second CD in this double-disc set is a compilation of ten pop songs heard in various Ozon films, including Swimming Pool, Sous Le Sable, Les Amants Criminels, 8 Femmes, Gouttes d’Eau Sur Pierres Brûlantes (Water Drops on Burning Rocks) and Une Robe d’Été (A Summer Dress), but other than an interesting French version of Cher’s “Bang Bang” by someone called Sheila, the majority are nothing to write home about. I have scoured the Internet for biographical information about Philippe Rombi, but have found nothing. I know he is French, I know he is fairly young, and I know he is supremely talented. I also know that anyone seeking to broaden their film music horizons beyond the norm should investigate this album.

Rating: ****

Track Listing:

  • Swimming Pool: Thème (5:37)
  • Swimming Pool: Writing (1:44)
  • Swimming Pool: Fausse Piste (0:59)
  • Swimming Pool: Révélation (1:07)
  • Swimming Pool: Journal Intime (1:36)
  • Swimming Pool: Méfiance (2:15)
  • Swimming Pool: Soupçons (1:07)
  • Swimming Pool: Flashback Meurtre (1:40)
  • Sous le Sable: Ouverture (7:11)
  • Sous le Sable: Apparition de Jean (2:20)
  • Sous le Sable: Sur le Sable (1:10)
  • Sous le Sable: Générique (1:42)
  • Les Amants Criminels: Adagio (5:55)
  • 8 Femmes: Générique Fin (composed by Krishna Lévy) (3:53)

Running Time: 60 minutes 16 seconds

Warner Music/Fidélité 2564-60-270-2 (2003)

SWIMMING POOL: Music composed and conducted by Philippe Rombi. Performed by Orchestra Symphonique Bel’Arte. Orchestrations by Philippe Rombi. Featured musical soloists Philippe Rombi, David Galoustov, Raymond Maillard, Iris Tarossian, Jacky Tricoire, Gilles Gramaize and Patrick Deusreumaux. Special vocal performances by Cathialine Andria and Carole Manet. Recorded and mixed by Stéphane Reichard.

SOUS LE SABLE: Music composed and conducted by Philippe Rombi. Performed by Orchestra Symphonique Bel’Arte. Orchestrations by Philippe Rombi. Featured musical soloists Philippe Rombi, Stéphane Rodescu, Raymond Maillard, Iris Tarossian and Alain Marié. Recorded and mixed by Stéphane Reichard.

LES AMANTS CRIMINELS: Music composed and conducted by Philippe Rombi. Performed by Orchestra Symphonique Bel’Arte. Orchestrations by Philippe Rombi. Recorded and mixed by Stéphane Reichard.

8 FEMMES: Music composed by Krishna Lévy. Conducted by Elena Chouchkova. Performed by The Bulgarian Symphony Orchestra. Orchestrations by Krishna Lévy. Featured musical soloists Dimitar Danchev, Mihail Mihailev, Iliana Selimska, Mariana Radoeva, Radosvet Koukoudov, Raoul Dullot and Jean-Philippe Audin. Recorded and mixed by Didier Lize and Guillaume Tell. Album produced by Philippe Rombi and François Ozon.

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