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DOGORA: OUVRONS LES YEUX – Étienne Perruchon

November 10, 2004 Leave a comment Go to comments

dogoraOriginal Review by Jonathan Broxton

A film from the same mold as Godfrey Reggio’s “qatsi” trilogy (Koyaanisqatsi, Powaqqatsi, Naqotqatsi), Dogora: Ouvrons Les Yeux is a documentary feature which ruminates on life, a film without narrative which uses the powerful combination of imagery and music to tell its story. Directed by Patrice Leconte, who was inspired to make the film after an eye-opening visit, Dogora is a film about Cambodia: its people, the landscape, and the culture. By focusing on the lives of everyday Cambodians as they go about their daily business – eating, sleeping, working, playing, travelling – Dogora provides the world with an intimate, realistic portrait of a still largely undiscovered culture, which is still best-known to the West for its bloody history under the Khmer Rouge regime, and the iconic images of the beautiful Angkor Wat temple which adorns the nation’s flag.

The score for Dogora is by 46-year-old French composer Étienne Perruchon, who has been working in French theatre since the late 1970s, but whose only real international film work of note to date was the 2002 comedy thriller “Les Percutés” for director Gérard Cuq. In anticipating what the music for Dogora would sound like, bearing in mind the film is trying to capture the essence of a nation such as Cambodia, one would immediately think of the familiar ‘oriental’ sounds favored by Western composers. It comes as something as a surprise, therefore, to discover that much of Perruchon’s music is written predominantly for a large orchestra and Slavic choir. While this stylistic decision may at first seem rather odd, the resulting score is actually very rewarding.

Perruchon cites the celebrated Russian classic composers Prokofiev, Stravinsky and Shostakovich as his musical inspirations for Dogora, but in film music terms the scores it reminds me of the most are actually Basil Poledouris’s pair The Hunt for Red October and Conan the Barbarian. By combining the might of the vocal work of the former with the orchestral power of the latter, Perruchon makes each cue a distinct musical entity in its own right, with just one uniting element – the mixed voices of the Sofia Symphony Orchestra Chorus. In each cue, the choir contributes their mesmerizing tones in a variety of guises, singing in a made-up language (a kind of mock-Russian), but nevertheless giving the album a palpable humanity – the tongue may be different, but the emotions felt through the performances are universal.

Taking into account the lack of an overarching central theme, Dogora is instead defined by the techniques, orchestrations and vocals in each individual cue. The cumulative effect is a soundtrack which plays less like a film score than a concept album. Motifs do not re-occur, and there is no thematic development, but somehow this is of no detriment to the listening experience overall. There is a definite life, energy, and buoyancy to the music throughout the score, and there is a coherency and sense of purpose which means there are delights to be found in almost every cue. You can feel the emotional content of each cue without visual stimulus: it runs the gamut of feelings from happiness and euphoria to comedy to innocence, while at other times it is almost overwhelmingly sad, as if lamenting for a nation left crippled by years of self-neglect and totalitarian rule.

The most notable cues include the opening “Tunga Ya”, a huge, driving piece that would make an excellent addition to the repertoire of the Red Army Choir; the slightly drunken-sounding “Kourni”, which eventually emerges as patriotic military anthem; the circus-like “Votsh”, which is reminiscent of the traditional dances written by classical composers such as Liszt or Khachaturian; the swirling, up-tempo “Dogora”, which is almost Nino Rota-ish in its life and effervescence; and “Mi Poshka”, which comes across as a Slavic folk song singing of unrequited love and loss.

Similarly, “Soukia” has a superb rhythmic quality to it, as if depicting the ebbs and flows of life in downtown Phnom Penh; “Zdieskani” has an unusual, ethereal, ethnic quality to its vocalized harmonies and skittery tempos; “Soutrinka” features an impassioned solo vocal performance by Sylvain Stawski that carries great emotional weight; both “Tou Toéshtaké” and “Shtakie” develop a majestic orchestral sweep as they progress; “Chälnié” builds out of pseudo John Barry-esque minimalist dissonance into one of the few non-choral pieces on the album; and “La Vidjiame” builds from a slow beginning into a infectious high-speed gypsy dance. The final pair, “Donia” and “Souchänishka” are orchestrally and vocally enormous, and give the album a rousing send-off.

Apparently, director Leconte edited his film to match the musical timings of Perruchon’s music, resulting in a cinematic experience in which film and music are in uncharacteristic synchronization. Very few film directors work in this way, but when they do, the results can often be breathtaking. It must be wonderfully inspiring for a composer to have the creative freedom to write music in this way, knowing that the film will eventually fit whatever rhythms and textures you see fit to impart.

The film’s subtitle, “Ouvrons Les Yeux”, is translated as “Let Us Open The Eyes”, which in many ways could not be a more apt description of the way I feel about Dogora. My eyes have been opened to Perruchon’s music in a big way. The language and stylistics used in the score may be ethnically as removed from the culture of Cambodia as it is possible to be, but the level of excellence in the music itself is beyond reproach.

Rating: *****

Track Listing:

  • Tchunga Ya! (2:18)
  • Kourni (3:55)
  • Votsh (1:13)
  • Dogora (1:59)
  • Mi Poshka (3:06)
  • Soukia (3:56)
  • Koshni (4:45)
  • Viniashtô Mi (2:52)
  • Tou Toéshtaké (4:07)
  • Mira (2:22)
  • Zdieskani (3:56)
  • Kiaeché Tchékania (3:04)
  • Vornia (1:06)
  • Soutrinka (4:28)
  • Chälnié (5:22)
  • La Vidjiame (3:49)
  • Shtakie (4:02)
  • Lézou (1:23)
  • Mié Panosko (3:42)
  • Donia (3:16)
  • Souchänishka (3:56)

Running Time: 68 minutes 37 seconds

Naïve V-4995 (2004)

Music composed by Étienne Perruchon. Conducted by Metodi Matakiev. Performed by The Sofia Symphony Orchestra, Chorus and Children’s Choir. Orchestrations by Étienne Perruchon. Choir conducted by Hristo Nedjyalkov and Roumen Raïchev. Featured musical soloists Corou de Berra, Michel Bianco, Marion Bouquinet, Pascal Tag, Firstly Francoïa, Francoise Marchetti and Massimo Rosadi. Special vocal performances by Sylvain Stawski. Recorded and mixed by Didier Lize. Album produced by Étienne Perruchon.

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