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L’AFRICAIN – Georges Delerue


Original Review by Craig Lysy

Director Philippe De Broca had three passions; Africa, adventure and comedy. So when he was offered an opportunity to direct L’Africain, he needed no coaxing. The story concerns Victor (Philippe Noriet) and Charlotte (Catherine Deneuve) who have separated, only to have fate bring them back together in unusual circumstances. He is a bush pilot and conservationist who has fled civilization to Africa where he has setup a floating grocery store. Charlotte has also come to Africa to build a tourist center by Lake William where she hopes to study pygmies who live near by. She quickly realizes that Victor’s site is the best location to build and so they reunite and join in common cause. Yet soon old conflicts reemerge and when a gang of ruthless ivory smugglers, elephant stampedes, crocodiles and pygmies are thrown into the mix all hell breaks loose!

De Broca had worked with composer Georges Delerue on sixteen prior films and was successful in luring him back from California to France for the project. De Broca told Delerue that he wanted an overture “that flowed like a great African river; vast, muddy and irresistible.” When Delerue played his vision on piano, De Broca was won over. He advised Delerue that he wanted the music to speak to the idyllic settings of far off lands. Well Delerue took him to heart and penned a wonderfully lyrical score that perfectly captured De Broca’s vision. He provides us with two primary themes, which include the glorious, sweeping and horn laden Main Theme as well as an exquisite Love Theme. This exquisitely romantic Love Theme, which abounds with an aching longing, is rendered in many forms; expressed by solo flute, solo piano, strings or full orchestra. In addition, we are treated to Delerue’s custom of infusing his scores with waltzes to provide a gentile and carefree ambiance.

The score opens with the Love Theme in the song “Face to Face” sung by Vivian Reed, with lyrics provided by Ellen Bands and Vivian Reed. The joining of Reed’s emotive voice, with a small ensemble of lush strings, piano and saxophone produces a wondrous synergy, which gives a sublime expression to Delerue’s Love Theme. “Face to Face” receives a second instrumental rendering in track 17 where solo piano replaces Reed’s voice and takes up the melodic line. A reprise of the main theme with a second piano counter adds additional beauty, as does the handover of the melodic line to solo saxophone. I must say that this Love Theme offers enduring testimony to Delerue’s romantic genius.

“L’Africain (Ouverture)” is a score highlight. It opens on strings with a grand lyricism that is just breath taking. Horns restate the theme as we see in panorama Victor flying over a vast game reserve, one of those amazing vista shots where film imagery and music achieve a sublime synergy. A harsh chord halts the lyrical flow at 2:20 and we segue into a silly marcia della commedia, before concluding with the Main Theme atop twinkling harp glissandi. In “Nostalgie de Victor” we are treated to the Love Theme, which is emoted with tenderness by solo flute and harp. A secondary melodic line by strings ushers in a closing reprise of the theme on strings. Our hearts ache with longing when presented with melodies such as this. In “Soirée Chez Patterson” Delerue scores a formal dining scene alla danzia by infusing it with the flowing ambiance of an 18th century French court dance. The solo flute work, which ends the piece, is just superb! “Poulakis et Sa Bande” is a tension cue. It opens with forlorn woodwinds conveying a sense of danger and trepidation. As slow ascent by tremolo strings and drums heightens the tension, which is broken by a fleeting statement of the Love Theme on solo violin. The cue concludes as it began and we are left feeling that all is not right.

“Valse Boston” features Delerue’s uncommon gift for infusing his scores with wonderful dance like melodies, in this case a French waltz. We are just swept away with the flowing ¾ time rhythms that take us back to more gentile and elegant times. In “Charlotte Abandonee” the Love Theme, now plaintive, returns atop a solo piano, which carries its melody with a deep sadness. “Sur la Piste des Éléphants” is an interesting cue with a complex narrative, which keeps you off balance. We open in gentile fashion with the Main Theme now carried by solo English horn as Victor and Charlotte wake from a night’s sleep in the jungle. But the mood quickly becomes comic atop woodwinds and tremolo strings as they prepare to meet another day in jungle. At 1:18 horns and drums raise the alarm, which escalates at 2:01 as pounding native drums portend danger. Blaring horn blast further raises the tension. But are we done yet? Well no, as at 2:39 Delerue concludes the cue with a dramatic and classic 19th century concert hall symphonic closure.

“Victor et Charlotte” is another tension cue. It opens harshly with repeating dark chords and ominous bass, which establish tension. An ascent and accelerando by strings ushers in a plaintive oboe, which emotes the Love Theme that transitions to solo flute, harp and strings. We conclude with a diminuendo of the theme. Well, we change gears yet again as Delerue provides us with a classic military march propelled by snare drums and horns in “Marche Militaire”. Vive la France! In “L’Espoir” we are treated to a hopeful rendering of the Love Theme that is exquisite. It features a passing of the theme from solo flute, to solo oboe, with harp accents and later sumptuous strings for just a sublime rendering of the theme. “Victor Sauve les Éléphants” is a suspense cue. We open with woodwinds that play over rhythmic pizzicato bass. Tremolo strings, discordant horns, drums and bass create a dark and dire ambiance as Victor works to save the elephants from the poachers.

In “Le Bar de l’Hôtel” the Love Theme returns atop solo piano, which is later joined by shifting string chords. This is just another example of the saying “There is beauty in simplicity.” “Voltige Aérienne” features another wondrous waltz from years gone by that just sweeps you away! At 0:51 the mood darkens and we transition on woodwinds and tremolo strings before yielding to a comic flute line that is most entertaining! A crescendo of strings and woodwinds concludes a most eclectic cue. “A Bientôt, Charlotte” is a score highlight and features Victor’s farewell to Charlotte who will soon return to France. It is that age-old tragedy of love where two people cannot bear to live with each other, nor live apart. Delerue captures the heartache of the moment with a truly sumptuous rendering of the Love Theme by full orchestral that is just sublime. We conclude our journey with “L’Adieu à l’Afrique”, another score highlight. It features Victor following Charlotte’s plane over wondrous vistas and each casting a parting glance through their respective windows. We are treated to a refulgent and horn laden extended expression of the Main Theme that just brings quivers. Cues like this are why I love film music!

Following the completion of the score there is a marvelous bonus cue, “Suite Symphonique de Broca”, which features a wonderful parade of themes from Delerue and de Broca’s collaboration. We open with the amazing heraldic fanfare from “Cartouche”, which ushers in the Main Title Theme of this 18th century French drama. This is one inspiring cue, which truly demonstrates Delerue’s talent for scoring period pieces. At 2:33 we segue the Venus and Cartouche Love Theme, which flows spiritedly with the youthful energy of a carefree dance. At 4:44 we segue into the “Chère Louise”, which features a quintessential romantic Delerue melody beautifully carried by a duet of solo piano and strings. When the accordion takes up the melodic line the story’s French ambiance comes alive. We conclude as we began with the duet. This is just beautiful writing! At 8:19 we segue into “Le Diable Par la Queue”, a light-hearted comedy. Delerue scored the film with classical elegance and this piece dances with a scherzo-like quality. At 10:00 we transition atop solo piano to the Love Theme, which plays with a tender intimacy that is just wonderful. The flute line that completes this segment is sublime. I love Delerue for themes such as this. At 13:21 we segue into “Chouans!”, a story of two brothers on opposite sides of the French revolution. We open with the astounding horn laden Main Title, which just brings quivers. I believe this Main Title to be one of Delerue’s most dramatic and powerful efforts. I am just inspired by the brilliance of his writing, his astounding lyricism and how he joins drama, power and beauty. This segment is a perfect way to bring this symphonic suite to conclusion.

This CD release is a milestone for film score collectors in that it is the first stereo edition of the complete score of L’Africain. The score is anchored by two themes; a glorious horn laden and sweeping Main Theme as well as an exquisite Love Theme. This Love Theme is expressed by solo flute, solo piano, and strings. It is one of the best love themes Delerue has ever written. A song version of the Love Theme sung beautifully by Vivian Reed is also provided. In addition we are treated to Delerue’s habit of infusing his scores with dance cues, which fill us with a gentile elegance. Lastly, there is a bonus cue that features a Symphonic Suite highlighting themes from films on which de Broca and Delerue collaborated. This score is a collector’s dream comes true and I highly recommend it for your collection.

Rating: ****

Buy the L’Africain soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Face to Face (written by Georges Delerue, Vivian Reed and Ellen Bands, performed by Vivian Reed) (3:41)
  • L’Africain (Ouverture) (3:30)
  • Nostalgie de Victor (2:23)
  • Soirée Chez Patterson (1:22)
  • Poulakis et Sa Bande (3:02)
  • Valse Boston (1:35)
  • Charlotte Abandonnée (performed by Raymond Alessandrini) (2:16)
  • Sur la Piste des Éléphants (3:07)
  • Victor et Charlotte (3:13)
  • Marche Militaire (1:11)
  • L’Espoir (2:09)
  • Victor Sauve les Éléphants (3:08)
  • Le Bar de l’Hôtel (2:01)
  • Voltige Aérienne (2:27)
  • A Bientôt, Charlotte (2:03)
  • L’Adieu à l’Afrique (2:27)
  • Face to Face (Version Instrumentale) (performed by Raymond Alessandrini) (3:41)
  • Suite Symphonique de Broca (performed by the Slovakian Radio Symphony Orchestra with Raymond Alessandrini, conducted by David Hernando Rico) (17:00)

Running Time: 60 minutes 16 seconds

Universal Music France 370-479-0 (1983/2012)

Music composed by Georges Delerue. Album produced by Stephane Lerouge and Colette Delerue.

  1. August 29, 2012 at 10:22 pm

    Great review Craig! I look forward to adding another lyrical Delerue gem to my collection.

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