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A VERY LONG ENGAGEMENT – Angelo Badalamenti

November 26, 2004 Leave a comment Go to comments

averylongengagementOriginal Review by Jonathan Broxton

With the exception of the cult TV series Twin Peaks and the Golden Globe-nominated score for David Lynch’s poetic drama The Straight Story, the vast majority of Angelo Badalamenti’s work has been written for projects on the fringes of the mainstream. He works with offbeat, independent directors like Paul Schrader, and often writes music for films with little or no commercial potential, and often in languages other than English. I’ve been telling myself that I’m a fan of his for quite some time but, when I actually sit down and think about the numbers involved, there are really only four or five titles I actually like: Cousins, The Straight Story, The Beach and Secretary are among them. For this reason I approached his score A Very Long Engagement with a combination of anticipation and unease; on too many occasions, Badalamenti has slightly disappointed me with his final product, despite each film having great potential for excellent music. Fortunately, this is not the case here.

A Very Long Engagement is the latest film from director Jean-Pierre Jeunet, his first since he achieved a great deal of international success with Amèlie in 2001. Released with the title ‘Un Long Dimanche de Fiançailles’ in its native France, the film is a sweeping wartime melodrama along the lines of The English Patient and Cold Mountain. Set in the years immediately following the end of World War One, Audrey Tatou stars as Mathilde, a young woman searching for her fiancée, Manech (Gaspard Ulliel). Despite being told that Manech died in 1917, Mathilde believes that he is still alive, and despite her own better judgment and the advice of those around her, begins a personal quest to find her love. As Mathilde tracks down old comrades and pieces together clues, a picture of the last months of Manech’s life begins to form – as does the possibility that something happened in the trenches that the French military wants to keep quiet…

Eschewing his familiar synthesizers in favor of a more standard symphony orchestra, Angelo Badalamenti’s score actually sounds quite different from how you would imagine, considering the nature of the film, but this is not necessarily a bad thing in this case. Rather than going down the traditional Hollywood road of enormous sweeping themes to hammer home the ‘epicness’ of the film, Badalamenti instead emphasizes the darker emotions of loss and loneliness through a series of quite intimate cues written mainly for a large string section. I hate to use the word, because it is such a cliché, but ‘haunting’ would be a very apt description for much of this score.

The “Main Title” is a slow, rather mournful lament for orchestra with prominent horns and a broad but melancholy string figure which segues into a martial-sounding interlude for strings and snare drums to accompany the wartime vistas of “The Trenches”. The attractive theme for Mathilde, first heard in “First Love Touch” is probably the score’s high point: more conventionally attractive than the rest of the score, reminiscent of the music Badalamenti wrote for the little-seen 2000 film The Beach, but with a tragically romantic point of view, it makes further appearances in “Mathilde’s Theme”, “Kissing Through Glass”, “Why Do You Cry?”, and in a slightly richer version in the “End Titles” to underscore moments where Mathilde fondly remembers her courtship with Manech before the horrors of war drove them apart. A smaller secondary theme for Jodie Foster’s bit-part character Elodie appears in Track 6 as a stylistic offshoot of the others.

Synthesizers do make a re-appearance in “Heartbeat to a Gunshot”, a dreamlike cue featuring a sampled choir that somehow seems to conjure up images of mist-shrouded battlefields and soldiers with shattered souls, mere shadows of the men they used to be. Some of the brass performances, notably in “Secret Code” and “The Man from Corsica” are vaguely reminiscent of a device James Horner regularly employs, and which was used films as varied as 1989’s In Country and 1998’s Deep Impact. There are also a few moments where Badalamenti incorporates a delicate woodwind solo (“Massage Fantasy”) or a more strident percussion element into his palette, but for the most part this is straight orchestral string writing all the way.

I’m going to contradict myself here by saying this, but the only thing missing from A Very Long Engagement – and the only thing that stops it getting top marks – is a big, sweeping, Hollywood theme. While the subtlety and restraint Badalamenti shows in the score is certainly admirable, one can’t help but feel that some kind of emotional catharsis, one of those swelling, tear-jerking orchestral finales would have been a perfect way to conclude the album, instead of the rather downbeat way it actually finishes. Nevertheless, A Very Long Engagement is one of the few Badalamenti scores which should appeal to a wider audience than fans of David Lynch movies. Some of the cues are undeniably lovely, and the orchestral approach makes a refreshing change from the synths he more often than not employs.

Rating: ****

Track Listing:

  • Main Title /The Trenches (4:54)
  • First Love Touch (3:55)
  • Heartbeat to a Gunshot (4:28)
  • Mathilde’s Theme (4:19)
  • Secret Code (5:01)
  • Elodie’s Theme (2:44)
  • Kissing Through Glass (2:07)
  • Massage Fantasy (2:24)
  • Never Had the Child (2:24)
  • The Man from Corsica (2:42)
  • Our Soldiers’ Letters (2:44)
  • Why Do You Cry? (2:18)
  • End Titles (6:51)

Running Time: 47 minutes 32 seconds

Nonesuch 79880-2 (2004)

Music composed by Angelo Badalamenti. Conducted by Phil Marshall. Orchestrations by Phil Marshall and Angelo Badalamenti. Recorded and mixed by Dennis Sands. Mastered by Joe Lambert. Album produced by Angelo Badalamenti.

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