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LUST CAUTION – Alexandre Desplat

September 28, 2007 Leave a comment Go to comments

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

There’s been quite a bit of controversy surrounding Lust Caution, the latest film from director Ang Lee. The winner of the prestigious Golden Lion at the 2007 Berlin Film Festival, the film tells the story of the dangerous, passionate relationship between a young woman named Wang Jiazhi (played by Wei Tang), and a shadowy political named Mr. Yee (Tony Leung), who may or may not be involved in espionage for the Chinese government in 1940s Shanghai. The controversy of the film lies not in its politics, but in its raw and realistic depiction of the sexual relationship between Wang and Yee – the MPAA slapped an NC-17 rating on the film following rumors that their lovemaking scenes were NOT simulated. Never afraid to shy away from difficult subject matters – as Brokeback Mountain attested – Ang Lee seems to be molding himself into a modern day version of Nagisa Oshima, whose equally controversial film In the Realm of the Senses polarized cinema-goers in 1976.

Less controversial was Lee’s choice of Alexandre Desplat to compose the film’s score. The Frenchman has been riding the crest of a wave in recent years, having written a series of universally praised scores such as Birth, Hostage, Firewall and The Painted Veil, capped off with his first Oscar nomination for The Queen in 2006. His superb score for Lust Caution extends the creative purple patch, indicating that his impressive streak of writing quality score after quality score shows no sign of abating. Lee has an uncanny knack for eliciting award-worthy scores from his composers – Gustavo Santaolalla, Tan Dun and Patrick Doyle have all been Oscar nominees for their work on his films, and it wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if Desplat doesn’t follow in their footsteps.

Similarly to The Painted Veil, despite being largely set in China, there is very little actual “Chinese” music in the score. Again, the driving force of the score is the emotional relationship between the lead characters – the passions on display are universal, and have little to do with their geographic location. As such, Desplat’s score is a full-orchestral affair (albeit with virtually no brasses), with special emphasis on piano, solo violin and electric cello.

Parts of Lust Caution actually resemble something John Barry might have written in his prime; the slow, swooning tones of the opening “Lust, Caution” are a perfect example of the decadent romanticism inherent in much of the score. Elsewhere, the score is very reminiscent of Desplat’s own 2000 score for the film The Luzhin Defence, especially in its use of sumptuous waltzes (the delicious “Dinner Waltz”, the delightful “An Empty Bed”), classically inflected violin performances (“Shanghai 1942”) and delicate, expressive solo piano writing (“Falling Rain”, “The End of Innocence”, “The Angel”, the beautiful “Wong Chia Chi’s Theme”). As in previous scores, a single classical cut is weaved seamlessly into the album, this time Alain Plane’s performance of Johannes Brahms’ 1893 composition “Intermezzo in A Major, Op.118 No.2”.

One or two cues are a little more tense and dissonant: “Streets of Shanghai” jangles the nerves through the use of scratchy pizzicato effects, “Sacrifice” employs some slightly drunken, off-kilter string writing and soft metallic percussion to add a little twist, and the opening part of “Nanjing Road” is the closest the score comes to an action cue, underpinning the music with an incessant bass ostinato. However, for the most part, Desplat’s score imparts an other-worldly, almost dreamlike mood, as if the music is conveying the all-encompassing nature of the central romance. When passions are this high, and when the depth of desire is this overwhelming, it’s all you feel, all you think about, and all you know. Everything else in the outside world, no matter how tumultuous or dangerous, becomes lost in a gauzy haze.

As a largely disappointing 2007 begins its final assault into awards season, Alexandre Desplat is again finding himself as a front-runner for the accolades of “Best of the Year”, with this score and with his eagerly-anticipated His Dark Materials: The Golden Compass just over the horizon. Lust, Caution is not an album which everyone will enjoy; the pace is generally slow and languid, and the tone occasionally a little morose and introspective, but for those who enjoy film scores which take their time to weave their spell, it represents a worthwhile investment.

Rating: ****

Track Listing:

  • Lust, Caution (1:08)
  • Dinner Waltz (1:53)
  • Falling Rain (1:14)
  • Intermezzo in A Major, Op.118 No 2 (written by Johannes Brahms, performed by Alain Planes) (6:12)
  • Streets of Shanghai (3:02)
  • Playacting (2:45)
  • Tsim Sha Tsui Stroll (1:45)
  • Exodus (1:37)
  • Moonlight Drive (3:06)
  • Shanghai 1942 (2:30)
  • The End of Innocence (2:31)
  • Sacrifice (4:19)
  • Remember Everything (2:12)
  • Check Point (1:05)
  • The Secret (1:34)
  • Nanking Road (3:07)
  • On the Street (1:37)
  • The Angel (2:21)
  • The South Quarry (2:17)
  • An Empty Bed (1:57)
  • Dinner Waltz (performed by the Traffic Quintet) (2:00)
  • Wong Chia Chi’s Theme (3:45)
  • Seduction (1:41)
  • Desire (4:27)

Running Time: 59 minutes 50 seconds

Decca B0009910-02 (2007)

Music composed and conducted by Alexandre Desplat. Orchestrations by Alexandre Desplat and Jean-Pascal Beintus. Featured musical soloists Alain Planes, Dominique Lemonnier, Vincent Segal and Ang Lee. Recorded and mixed by Andy Dudman. Edited by Xavier Forcoli. Album produced by Alexandre Desplat.

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