Home > Reviews > DESCENTE AUX ENFERS – Georges Delerue


October 17, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments


Original Review by Craig Lysy

The 1986 film Descente Aux Enfers was adapted from the murder mystery novel by author David Goodis. It tells the story of Alan Kolber (Claude Brasseur), a middle-aged alcoholic French crime novelist and his wife Lola (a very young Sophie Marceau in one of her first film roles), a young woman half his age who are struggling in an unhappy marriage. They resolve to take a holiday to Haiti in an attempt to reset their marriage. Things go terribly awry when a drunken Alan kills a mugger and ends up being blackmailed for murder when he fails to report the incident. What unfolds is a tale of drama and hidden secrets as aspects of Lola’s past come to light as they struggle to find funds to pay the blackmailer.

The film did not achieve either critical or commercial success, but director Francis Girod was very happy with his collaboration with Delerue on the film Le Bon Plaisir (1984), and so he was a natural choice to score his next film. His singular instruction to Delerue was “saxophone”, which a dutiful Delerue infused into his score. The score features three primary themes, which frequently interplay or join in a tête-à-tête. The first is Lola’s Theme, which is delicate, filled with an overwhelming sadness and performed by solo flute with plucked harp. The second is Alan’s Theme, which is either carried by solo piano or solo saxophone. His theme has greater range of expression, mood and tempo depending on his state of sobriety. Lastly there is the Main Theme, a bluesy, jazz melody given voice by Pierre Gossez’s solo alto saxophone.

“Générique Début” opens with an undercurrent of tension and the feeling that something is not right. We hear a prelude of woodwinds repeatedly pulsing against string sustains until a solo saxophone playing over plucked bass and shifting string sustains introduces the blues tinged and jazz flavored Main Theme. The melody wanders plaintively as it immerses you in a palpable sadness until the saxophone fades amidst eerie escalating string sustains. Delerue perfectly sets the tone of the film with this fine opening. “Alan et Lola” is a score highlight that features beautiful interplay between the plaintive Alan’s Theme carried by piano and the sad but tender Lola’s Theme carried by solo flute with harp accents. It is often said that in simplicity there is beauty; Delerue pens a cue of uncommon beauty that perfectly captures the essence of each character. Simply gorgeous!

“Bonheur Trompe-l’Oeil” is a dichotomous cue that opens with lush idyllic strings and harp glissandi that sours as a solo cor anglais and sad strings expose the dark undercurrents that churn within Alan and Lola’s relationship. “Le Joli Jeune Home” is an upbeat, repeating and rhythmic piece carried by solo clarinet, guitar, strummed bass and percussion. The melody has no idea where it is going and is clearly designed as ambiance music. In the extras section of the score, the cue is reprised with a xylophone replacing the clarinet. In “Alan” a solo saxophone reprises the Main Theme and loses none of the jazzy, bluesy pastiche. “La Plage” opens with aching mid register doloroso strings that speak of loneliness. We continue the somber mood with “Le Spleen d’Alan” which features a beautiful interplay of the Main Theme and Lola’s Theme. We open with a solo saxophone rendering a variant of the Main Theme that is joined by a fleeting reference to Lola’s Theme on solo flute. Her theme is then taken up by strings and harp glissandi for a fuller and more lush expression, before returning once more to the solo flute line. This beautiful cue that expands upon Lola’s Theme is simply beautiful and for me a score highlight.

“Alan au Bar” is a beautifully crafted piece performed by a solo piano that features an expanded statement of Alan’s Theme. The piano’s tenor and pacing is noticeably lighter, more relaxed and more expressive. This cue is really a piano lover’s dream and for me another score highlight. Running counter and jarring us is “Baignoire Rock”, which features a classic 80’s rock band melody carried by electric guitar, electric bass, drums and electric piano. As the cue title states, “La Descente aux Enfers d’Alan” features a drunk Alan caught in a descending spiral of self-destruction. Delerue cleverly uses a sluggish and dissonant saxophone with a dissonant string sustain counter to play his melody. This approach is well conceived and perfectly attenuated to the film.

“Philippe et Lola” offers vintage Delerue as he fills us with an aching, longing and sadness. Strings open the cue and carry us with a wondrous melodic line until surrendering to Lola’s Theme performed once more by doloroso flute. This cue is really beautifully expressed, fills me with heartache and is enduring testimony to the genius of Delerue. In “Feu Dans la Nuit” we again hear interplay of themes. We open with Alan’s Theme on solo saxophone that yields halfway through the cue to a string ostinato bridge from which arises Lola’s Theme on solo flute. Again, the construct of this piece is first rate and beautifully realized. “La Mort de Kléber” is a vintage and potent suspense cue. It opens darkly with a bass sustain that is joined by mid register tremolo strings. From here eerie, dissonant tremolo violins join and then progress to a harsh, grating Herrmannesque violin ostinato playing over a countering bass! Wow, this is really quite a stunning and well-conceived progression! The cue ends starkly with a sting sustain and plucked viola, which fade into nothingness.

In “La Bouteille à la Mer” is another dichotomous cue that opens wondrously with a descending melodic line of lyrical strings and harp. Midway through the cue we segue into Alan’s Theme, which is once again carried by solo saxophone. We conclude the score with the lyrical “La Confession de Lola/Générique Fin”. The cue opens with sumptuous strings and harp, which introduce a tender Lola’s Theme on solo flute. Her theme then shifts to strings, which flow back into the opening melodic line supported by plucked harp. We then finish with an extended statement of Alan’s Theme on solo saxophone and accompanied by lush strings. What a beautiful way to conclude the score!

The extra cues are a mixed bag. “Arrivée à l’Hôtel” opens delicately with Lola’s Theme on a solo flute that plays with plucked harp over a shifting string sustain. Midway we transition with a syncopated traveling motif as they arrive at the hotel. “Maîtres Chanteurs” opens with an air of tension evoked by a combined string and harp ostinato. We then segue into a comic clarinet line that breaks the tension. After this interlude we shift back into the tension motif of dark tremolo strings and woodwinds to conclude the cue. “Nocturne” perfectly describes the classic musical form of this cue that features Lola’s Theme. In “Flashback metro” we experience a complex cue, which features interplay once more between Alan’s Theme and Lola’s Theme. The cue opens with the tension of tremolo strings and Lola’s Theme played by solo oboe. An eerie interlude of tremolo strings gives way to Lola’s Theme carried by solo flute which in turn surrenders to a closing reference of Alan’s Theme on solo saxophone. In “Ma Femme Douce, Ma Femme Dure” plucked harp and a string sustain introduce and accompany Lola’s Theme carried by solo flute.

I must once again thank Cyril Durand-Roger and Laurent Lafarge of Music Box Records for a most welcome restoration. The score not only includes the 37 minutes of music from the original LP release, but also nine minutes of bonus material found among Delerue’s personal archives. The digital mastering is excellent with only some minor barely noticeable imperfections in the bonus tracks resultant from their condition. The score features three fine themes, and a broad range of expression that includes bluesy jazz, rock and classic lyricism, all of which Delerue weaves with aplomb in a wondrous tapestry. Whether you are a Delerue enthusiast like me, or a general collector, this score has something for everyone. I highly recommend purchase of this limited edition (1,000 units) as a worthy addition to your collection.

Rating: ****

Buy the Descente Aux Enfers soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Générique Début (3:57)
  • Alan et Lola (3:28)
  • Bonheur Trompe l’Oeil (1:05)
  • Le Joli Jeune Homme (1:20)
  • Alan (1:59)
  • La Plage (1:27)
  • Le Spleen d’Alan (3:27)
  • Alan au Bar (2:40)
  • Baignoire Rock (3:26)
  • Descente Aux Enfers d’Alan (1:58)
  • Philippe et Lola (1:49)
  • Feu Dans la Nuit (2:32)
  • La Mort de Kléber (2:01)
  • La Bouteille à la Mer (1:25)
  • La Confession de Lola/Générique Fin (4:19)
  • Arrivée à l’Hôtel [BONUS] (1:23)
  • Maîtres Chanteurs [BONUS] (1:50)
  • Nocturne [BONUS] (0:57)
  • Flashback Métro [BONUS] (2:08)
  • Ma Femme Douce, Ma Femme Dure [BONUS] (1:10)
  • Le Joli Jeune Homme (Version Alternative) [BONUS] (1:18)

Running Time: 45 minutes 39 seconds

Music Box Records MBR-04 (1986/2011)

Music and composed and conducted by Georges Delerue. Alto Saxophone performances by Pierre Gossez. Album produced by Cyril Durand-Roger and Laurent Lafarge.

  1. No comments yet.
  1. No trackbacks yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: