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UN HOMME ET SON CHIEN – Philippe Rombi

January 16, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

It’s quite easy for a film music reviewer like myself to become jaded. I hear, on average, between 125 and 175 scores each calendar year, both new works and re-releases, and sometimes barely half of them warrant a second listen. Each year there are maybe 20 or 30 good scores, maybe 5 great scores, and very rarely there is one which can be considered “excellent”. It’s not very often that I listen to a new score and am instantly captured by the music I hear, but when it happens it reminds me why I listen to film music, why I still love this genre, and why this kind of music can move, elate and thrill me like no other. Un Homme Et Son Chien by Philippe Rombi is one of those rare scores.

A French-language drama directed by Francis Huster, Un Homme Et Son Chien (A Man and His Dog) stars that legend of French cinema, Jean-Paul Belmondo, as Charles, an elderly man who is forced to live on the streets of Paris when his former lover kicks him out of her house. With only his faithful dog for company, Charles wanders through the city, encountering its inhabitants, reflecting on his life, his loves, and his own uncertain future. The film marked a triumphant return to the screen for Belmondo, seven years after suffering a seriously debilitating stroke, who has been lauded for his emotional, sensitive performance in the leading role. It was released in theaters in France in January of this year, and will be making a brief tour through the art houses of America in the autumn, where it will undoubtedly be seen by 73 film students who idolize François Truffaut, a handful of French ex-pats, but absolutely no-one else – which is why I’m making a stand on the soundtrack with this review.

French film music suffered a few lean years after the death of Georges Delerue and the virtual retirement of Maurice Jarre, with no real film music stars taking their place. Recently, Alexandre Desplat has risen to become the new poster boy for French film music in the Hollywood mainstream, but Philippe Rombi may actually be Delerue’s heir apparent. Rombi has been slowly and surely making a name for himself since his first appearance on the film music scene in the early 2000s, and his subsequent work for director François Ozon, and on films like Merry Christmas and Angel, have won him a great deal of critical acclaim and admiration from film music fans, especially those with an affinity for Delerue’s style of emotional orchestral music. Of the dozen or so Rombi scores I have heard, Un Homme Et Son Chien ranks among the best: a glorious, theme-filled, emotional, utterly beautiful exploration of the loneliness, hope and reflection of a man at the end of his life.

Like Delerue, Rombi has a way of writing themes of such simplicity, such effortless beauty, it takes your breath away. The opening piece of Un Homme Et Son Chien contains one of those themes; performed initially on a solo piano, gradually building to be accompanied by the full orchestra, it’s one of those pieces which just makes you melt: emotional, romantic, longing, tinged with sadness and regret, but with an overwhelming, lyrical beauty. People don’t write film music like this any more – music that unashamedly tugs at the heartstrings and the tear ducts, music that stands so at odds with the common film music mantra that less is more, that any music that brings attention to itself, or is construed as being “manipulative” is somehow bad. This is not bad; this is glorious. This is the kind of music I live for.

The theme is repeated with pleasing regularity throughout the score, in cues such as the playfully cheerful “Mon Chien”, the tenderly bittersweet “Recueillement”, or the gorgeously contemporary “Seul”, which re-works the theme for an expressive, intimate acoustic guitar. The conclusive cues, “Générique Fin” and “Un Homme Et Son Chien” are utterly transcendent, with the second of the two containing a wonderful solo piano version of the main theme performed by Rombi himself; I don’t mind admitting that, when the violin takes over the melody in the second half of the piece, it literally brought me to tears the first time I heard it.

However, Un Homme Et Son Chien is much, much more than a one-theme score. The “Ouverture” begins with a raging, turbulent motif for piano and orchestra that is strong and dominant, dramatic and bold, before presenting the first performance of the score’s second main melody, Charles’s Theme, on solo violin. Unlike the main theme, Charles’s Theme is a little more wistful, a little more nostalgic, almost defiantly upbeat, and seems to represent the old man’s happy past rather than his bleak present, although the woodwind performance of the theme at the end of the Overture certainly seems intent on making Charles’s plight seem rather unwelcoming. The central performance of Charles’s theme, “Thème de Charles”, is almost Desplat-like in its construct, with a lush and stately waltz rhythm, a delightful syncopated piano line, and a graceful, elegant sweep.

“Le Piano de Jeanne” features another theme, most likely representing the relationship between Charles and his lover Jeanne, the end of which is the catalyst for the film’s events. The flute-led variation on Jeanne’s theme in “Charles et Jeanne” is another one of those multi-faceted pieces which seems to convey two emotions at the same time: the carefree happiness of the relationship the two once shared, and the sorrow of their bitter breakup.

Later, “Le Matin du Départ” has a palpable sense of resignation and despondency, despite the continued beauty of the music, while the sublime flute melody in “Charles et Leila” sounds like Delerue resurrected, recalling the great man’s work on scores like Agnes of God. Conversely, but no less impressively, the striking pair of “Rester Digne” and “Final – Le Train” sees Rombi almost entering action music territory with music that increases both the volume and tempo to superb effect through more strident rhythms and more vigorous string writing.

As I’ve said before, at a time when mainstream Hollywood music seems to be suffering from a general malaise, time and again I find myself looking outside the traditional channels to find the kind of music which attracted me to the genre in the first place. Un Homme Et Son Chien is one of those scores which keeps the listener in raptures from beginning to end, and fans of Delerue, or Desplat, or of music which wears its heart on its sleeve should seek out this score immediately. This isn’t hyperbole, or a kneejerk backlash to the Hollywood studio system. I’m not making this up. Just trust me.

Rating: *****

Buy the Un Homme Et Son Chien soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Un Homme Et Son Chien Theme (4:31)
  • Ouverture (2:27)
  • Le Piano de Jeanne (1:50)
  • Charles et Jeanne (1:51)
  • Thème de Charles (2:50)
  • Les Souvenirs (0:55)
  • Le Matin du Départ (2:29)
  • Mon Chien (1:30)
  • Charles et Leila (3:31)
  • Recueillement (1:40)
  • Je Ne Sais Plus Où Aller (1:26)
  • Fais le Beau (1:00)
  • Rester Digne (1:27)
  • Seul (3:03)
  • Le Pianiste de l’Hôtel (1:56)
  • Final – Le Train (3:54)
  • Générique Fin (4:30)
  • Un Homme Et Son Chien (3:58)

Running Time: 44 minutes 48 seconds

Zig-Zag Territoires ZZT090105 (2009)

Music composed and conducted by Philippe Rombi. Performed by Orchestre Symphonique Bel’Arte. Orchestrations by Philippe Rombi. Featured musical soloists Philippe Rombi, Michel Moragues and Jacky Trincoire. Recorded and mixed by Stéphane Reichard. Album produced by Philippe Rombi.

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