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LA MULA – Óscar Navarro

lamulaOriginal Review by Jonathan Broxton

La Mula is a drama based on the novel by Juan Eslava Galán, written and directed by Michael Radford, which tells the story of a soldier named Castro (Mario Casas) who finds a mule on the battlefields and travels through the country with it, observing the effects and aftermath of the Spanish Civil War. The film, which was disowned by its director during post-production, was actually completed in 2010, but sat on a shelf for almost four years, until all its legal and distribution issues were resolved. Thankfully, for score fans, the film was released in 2013, which gave us the chance to hear its wonderful music, written by young Spanish composer Óscar Navarro – this is his debut feature score, and it’s a gem.

The opening cue, “Love Story”, tells you exactly what you need to know about the score from its first moments: lush, sweeping, lyrical, theme-filled, dramatically powerful, fully orchestral, this is a wondrous introduction to the work of the young composer, and despite this astonishing opening, Navarro never really allows things to drop in terms of quality. Considering that, prior to this film, Navarro’s only film scoring experience was on sort films, the level of compositional excellence on display here is astonishing.

Unusually, quite a lot of the middle section of the score is quite light, even comedic in tone, capturing the essence of the unusual relationship between a boy and his ass. Traditional Spanish instruments – castanets, trumpets, flamenco handclap rhythms – appear in cues such as “The Turntable”, the action-styled “I Am Not a Slave to Anyone” the light and flighty “The Earrings”, and the flamboyant “Valentina´s Escape“, while the cheerful pair “Long Live Castro!” and “Discovered” feature whimsical little marches and clip-clop hoofbeat percussion that Elmer Bernstein would have been proud to call his own.

However, it is the more straightforward emotional pieces that Navarro impress the most. “Castro and Conchi” is a more bittersweet, introspective theme, containing a lovely trio for classical guitar, clarinet and a haunting solo violin. A gorgeous solo violin performance anchors “Friendship”, a lovely recapitulation of the clarinet theme appears in “The Bishop” alongside more ecclesiastical orchestrations such as organs and church bells, tender pianos feature in the soft and warm “Future Plans”, and a searching violin solo makes “Death of the Ensign” an emotional moment of longing and loss. The 9-minute conclusive piece, “Grand Finale”, sees Navarro returning fully to the beautiful orchestral textures of the opening cue, finishing the score on an absolute high, especially when a region-specific wordless vocal enters the mix.

The score for La Mula is available on the MovieScore Media label, and I absolutely recommend you check it out. Some of the cues in the middle of the album do lose a little of their emotional intensity, and the happy-go-lucky feel of them stands at odds with the score’s more conventionally beautiful bookends, but despite this, Óscar Navarro’s talent shines through. He’s yet another Spaniard to add to the ever-increasing of outstanding young composers to emerge from that region in the past five years or so.

Buy the La Mula soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Love Story (2:48)
  • Castro and Conchi (2:31)
  • The Turntable (2:00)
  • Friendship (1:53)
  • I Am Not a Slave to Anyone (1:01)
  • The Earrings (1:45)
  • Field Day (2:14)
  • The Bishop (2:21)
  • The Letter (1:38)
  • The Bombardment (0:31)
  • The Press (1:03)
  • Valentina’s Escape (2:34)
  • Long Live Castro! (1:58)
  • Reviewing the Letter (1:31)
  • Discovered (1:13)
  • A Young Gentleman’s Gift (0:47)
  • Future Plans (3:29)
  • The War Is Over (1:19)
  • I´ll Miss You (0:53)
  • The Outcome (2:01)
  • Mule Count (2:00)
  • Death of the Ensign (1:22)
  • Grand Finale (8:56)
  • Trenches (Bonus Track) (3:36)

Running Time: 52 minutes 18 seconds

MovieScore Media MMS-13013 (2013)

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