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THE CONSTANT GARDENER – Alberto Iglesias

September 2, 2005 Leave a comment Go to comments

constantgardenerOriginal Review by Jonathan Broxton

A taut political thriller from the pen of John Le Carré, about the pharmaceutical industry and human rights violations in central Africa, The Constant Gardener is the latest film from acclaimed Brazilian director Fernando Meirelles. Ralph Fiennes stars as Justin Quayle, a soft-spoken British diplomat in Kenya, who learns that his young wife, Tessa (Rachel Weisz), has been killed while traveling in a jeep along a lonely stretch of highway. The official cause of death is a ‘bandit raid’, but Justin suspects a cover-up. As he delves deeper into his wife’s past, he discovers some disturbing truths about her life as a human rights activist, and the work of a shady drug company who are testing a new vaccine for tuberculosis amongst the local population. The film, which also stars Danny Huston, Bill Nighy, Pete Postlethwaite, Gerard McSorley and Hubert Koundé, has been generally lauded by film critics, and looks to be a major player at awards ceremonies in the near future.

The score for The Constant Gardener is by Spanish composer Alberto Iglesias, whose most famous work to date has been with director Pedro Almodóvar on films such as Live Flesh (1997), All About My Mother (1999), Talk to Her (2002), and Bad Education (2004), and who has won six Goya Awards (Spanish Oscars) during the course of his successful domestic career. To accentuate the film’s central African setting, Iglesias has composed much of his score in the currently in-vogue ‘world music’ style, liberally sprinkling his orchestral stylings with all manner of unusual vocal and instrumental effects, from Kenyan artist Ayub Ogada’s unique performances of the nyatiti (an eight-stringed lyre from west Africa), to Javier Paxariño’s kawala wood flute, and Javier Crespo’s ronroco, a large South American stringed instrument, traditionally made with the shell of the back of an armadillo. I suppose one could call it a lighter version of Black Hawk Down, but without the intensity or sheer rawness of the Zimmer score.

For the most part, Iglesias’s score is more about percussive rhythms than it is about themes and variations – a trait indicative of African and middle-eastern music, but which makes for a slightly repetitive listening experience for western ears. Some of the more rhythmic parts of the score are actually quite reminiscent of Thomas Newman’s post-American Beauty work, with all manner of marimbas and woodblocks keeping time underneath the bed of instrumental and vocal effects. The two “Roadblock” cues are examples of this style (although the second one does sound like it contains a sample of someone in dire need of the Heimlich manoeuvre), while “We’ll Both Be Dead By Christmas” and “Raid” take the style into an action setting. Other cues of note include “Jomo Gets an HIV Test” and “Motorbike”, both of which recall parts of Howard Shore’s The Cell or Mychael Danna’s 8MM, albeit with the addition of a Goldenthalian baritone sax in the latter.

Once in a while the orchestra will rise to the fore – “To Germany” features some dark and ominous bass rhythms and a plaintive cello motif, while the quietly jazzy “Justin’s Breakdown” rises to emotional heights by the end – and there are one or two moments of more low-key beauty, such as the opening ‘Tessa’s Death” with its clarinet solo, the gentle “Tessa in the Bath”, and the downbeat trio “Funeral”, “Destruction” and “Kindergarten”, which offset Iglesias’s sorrowful pianos and mournful violins with occasional cooing tribal voices.

The two songs performed by Ogala, “Dicholo” and “Kothbiro”, are actually great: the former is a high energy Swahili dance piece which effectively conjures up images of dense, busy African city streets thronged with traffic, senses being assaulted by the spicy fragrances of nearby markets, and the sound of traders calling and haggling in foreign tongues. The latter is a quiet, contemplative, almost spiritual meditation with a soothing aspect. They are very good.

The thing about it, though, is that there is simply not enough interesting material present to make The Constant Gardener a compelling score. The instrumental choices are authentic, and the way in which a Spaniard is able to evoke the sounds and rhythms of a culture alien to him is nothing less than commendable, but there is no real ‘hook’ or memorable aspect to lift the score out of the realms of it being merely appropriate. The thriller aspects are not particularly thrilling, the romantic parts are not particularly romantic, and the action material is not particularly exciting. It’s interesting to note that, of all Iglesias’s scores to date, The Constant Gardener is the one which has been receiving the most amount of critical attention, despite it being one of the weakest in his recent career. Fans of world music may get a kick out of it, but beyond that there is little to recommend.

Rating: **½

Track Listing:

  • Tessa’s Death (2:15)
  • Roadblock I (2:40)
  • To Germany (3:23)
  • Tessa in the Bath (4:12)
  • Jomo Gets an HIV Test (1:00)
  • Dicholo (written and performed by Ayub Ogala) (3:14)
  • We’ll Both Be Dead By Christmas (2:37)
  • Motorbike (1:07)
  • To Airport (2:34)
  • Funeral (2:22)
  • Three Bees Testing (3:10)
  • Sandy Goes to the Hospital (1:37)
  • Kothbiro (written by Mbarak Achieng, performed by Ayub Ogala) (5:34)
  • Justin Returns to the House (3:17)
  • Raid (5:21)
  • Destruction (2:00)
  • To Loki (1:15)
  • Kindergarten (3:36)
  • Hospital (3:00)
  • Kenny Curtis (3:00)
  • Landing in Sudan (1:58)
  • Justin’s Breakdown (3:46)
  • Justin’s Death (3:24)
  • Dropped Off at Turkana (2:30)
  • Roadblock II (3:30)
  • Procession (1:40)

Running Time: 74 minutes 13 seconds

Higher Octave 09463-36887-2-8 (2005)

Music composed and conducted by Alberto Iglesias. Featured musical soloists Ayub Ogada, Paul Clarvis, Javier Paxariño, Javier Crespo, John Parricelli, David Daniels, Chris Laurence, Frank Ricotti, Skaila Kanga, Simon Chamberlain, Julia Malkova and Javier Casado. Recorded and mixed by Jose Luis Crespo. Edited by Tony Lewis. Album produced by Alberto Iglesias and Javier Casado.

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