Home > Reviews > Best of 2013 in Film Music – France

Best of 2013 in Film Music – France

January 18, 2014 Leave a comment Go to comments

flightofthestorksFLIGHT OF THE STORKS – Éric Neveux
Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

Flight of the Storks (Le Vol des Cigognes) is a French TV mini series starring Harry Treadaway as Jonathan, a young English academic ornithologist who teams up with a colleague to follow storks on their migration from Switzerland to Africa. However, when his colleague is found dead in mysterious circumstances, Jonathan finds himself caught up in an international web of intrigue, travelling through Bulgaria, Turkey, the Middle East, and the Congo along the pathway of the migrating storks, with a dogged Swiss detective hot on his heels. This mini-series was directed by Jan Kounenm adapted from the novel by Jean-Christophe Grangé, co-starred Rutger Hauer and Perdita Weeks, and was scored by French composer Éric Neveux.

Neveux’s music unfolds in travelogue fashion, following Jonathan throughout his epic journey, and bringing in the regional sound of his destination into the score as he reaches the different cities. The opening “Journey to Sofia” is lovely, bringing into plucked guitar and lute-like instruments into his long-lined string-based main theme. “De Sofia à Haïfa” brings more Middle Eastern inflections to the music, trading introducing a set of lovely lilting guitars which carry the melody throughout the piece. “Welcome to Antwerp” has the feel of contemporary Europe, with fun electronic pulses underneath a more classical string wash, while “Streets of Kinshasa” have a prominent ethnic beat with all manner of shakers and metallic percussion items underpinning a slow, meandering string melody, twisting and turning like the Congo river itself.

This is counterbalanced by more contemporary thriller music for the action and suspense parts of the story, as Jonathan finds out more about his supposed friend’s murky hidden past, and the reason for his death. Cues like “Locked Up”, “The Hatch” and “White Flat Trap” are scored with modern synth rhythms and dance-like beats to give them an urban edge, while cues like “Looking for Max”, “Hallucinations”, “The Village” and the vicious “Death Flight” are much more sinister, using long string sustains, low end piano chords, dirty-sounding synth effects, and periods of vivid dissonance to convey a sense of tension and dread. “Hallucinations” is especially unsettling as a result of its interpolation of tribal drums and angry vocals. Only in the conclusive “Not Friends Anymore” does Neveux bring any real sense of traditional scoring techniques with a tender, but downcast, string melody, which then carries through into parts of the excellent extended finale, the six-minute title track “Flight of the Storks”, which is by far the best cue on the album.

This isn’t a score which will appeal to the majority of listeners – it’s a little too ambient and urban for me in places, and eschews thematic integrity in favor of more set-piece based vignettes of sound and instrumental textures – but it does contain a couple of really excellent pieces, and continues to showcase Éric Neveux’s development and growth as a composer to keep an eye on.

Track Listing: 1. Journey to Sofia (1:12), 2. Looking for Max (2:23), 3. De Sofia à Haïfa (1:49), 4. Locked Up (2:24), 5. My Family (1:39), 6. The Hatch (2:18), 7. A Brief Moment of Happiness (3:30), 8. African Roots (1:37), 9. Hallucinations (2:18), 10. Diamonds (2:10), 11. Welcome to Antwerp (2:42), 12. Remember! (3:08), 13. White Flat Trap (1:54), 14. Awakening (2:20), 15. Streets of Kinshasa (1:22), 16. The Village (2:49), 17. Governor’s House (3:24), 18. Mr. Dumaz (1:37), 19. Death Flight (2:39), 20. Not Friends Anymore (1:07), 21. Brother (1:39), 22. The Flight of the Storks (6:16). MovieScore Media MMD0024; Running Time: 52:17.

jeuneetjolieJEUNE ET JOLIE – Philippe Rombi
Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

The latest film from French director François Ozon, Jeaune et Jolie (Young & Beautiful) is a powerful drama about a young girl discovering her sexuality. Marine Vacth plays Isabelle, a teenage girl on summer holidays with her family in the in the south of France. After a brief sexual encounter with a tourist leaves her cold, Isabelle decides she needs more experience – and soon starts working as a prostitute named ‘Lea’, meeting all kinds of clients and seeing her world of sexuality opening before her. The film co-stars Ozon’s regular muse Charlotte Rampling, as well as Géraldine Pailhas and Frédéric Pierrot, and has an original score by Ozon’s regular collaborator Philippe Rombi.

Rombi’s three score cues on the CD amount to just over 11 minutes of music, but they are as wonderful as they always are, a continuation of the beautiful, lyrical style he has shown over the course of his entire career. “Eté” presents the score’s main theme, a dream-like piece for piano and cello augmented by a soft string wash and subtle bells that speaks of gentle romance and summer breezes. “Chambre 6095” begins softly, but gradually increases in power and intensity as it develops, emerging into a dominant, passionate string theme with ground basses and strong, sultry piano chords mimicking the throws of erotic desire the lead character experiences. The conclusive “Jeune et Jolie” restates the main theme in a more fleshed out and grand manner, but has a slightly wistful and thoughtful quality to it that is very appealing.

Although the score is brief, there is still much to be admired about the way Rombi is able to capture complicated emotions through his music, conflicting lust and ecstasy with innocence and tragedy. It’s quite marvelous. The soundtrack album is fleshed out by four undeniably Gallic songs from the popular 1960s singer Françoise Hardy, and handful of other pop efforts that feature within the film, including one – “Midnight City” – written and performed by M83, the pseudonym of composer Anthony Gonzalez, who wrote the score for Oblivion.

Track Listing: 1. Eté (2:13), 2. L’Amour d’Un Garçon (performed by Françoise Hardy) (2:11), 3. True Romance (performed by The Citizens) (4:52), 4. Poison Lips (performed by Vitalic) (3:52), 5. The Sense of Me (performed by Mud Flow) (2:34), 6. Chambre 6095 (4:19), 7. A Quoi Ça Sert? (performed by Françoise Hardy) (3:29), 8. Young Americans (performed by Poni Hoax) (4:09), 9. Midnight City (performed by M83) (4:04), 10. Baptism (performed by Crystal Castles) (4:12), 11. Première Rencontre (performed by Françoise Hardy) (2:49), 12. Jeune & Jolie (4:39), 13. Je Suis Moi (performed by Françoise Hardy) (4:38). Cristal Records BO-006; Running Time: 48:01.

jimmypJIMMY P. – Howard Shore
Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

Jimmy P., Psychotherapy of a Plains Indian, is a French drama directed by Arnaud Desplechin. Based on the autobiography by Georges Devereux, an early French psychotherapist, it stars Mathieu Almaric as a doctor who specializes in ethnology and psychoanalysis, who is asked to treat Jimmy Picard (Benicio Del Toro), a Blackfoot Indian who has returned from World War II with debilitating symptoms that seem to indicate post-traumatic stress and possible schizophrenia. Although the movie sounds very talky and intellectual, the movie actually deals with very human emotions, as well as the development of ethnographic psychoanalysis as a legitimate field, and was critically lauded at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival.

The score for Jimmy P. is by Howard Shore, who worked with director Desplechin before on Esther Kahn in 2000, and who clearly needed a break from writing music for Middle Earth. This score is about as far from The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit as it’s possible to be; serious, classically minded, and quite austere in places, Shore trades his enormous orchestra for the more intimate sounds of a solo piano, woodwinds, prominent harps, and a chamber-sized string section, capturing the small but fiercely dramatic relationship between doctor and patient at the center of the story.

The “Overture” is lovely, presenting an intimate, unadorned solo piano performance of the recurring main theme, which forms the backbone of pretty much the entire score. Cues such as “Jimmy P.” and “Puppet Show” augment dark, Silence of the Lambs-ish woodwind motifs with soft tribal drums, which are clearly intended to evoke subtle reflections of the main character’s Native American heritage. The slightly off-kilter chord progressions that have typified much of Shore’s non-LOTR work throughout his career appear in abundance here, keeping cues such as “The Barn”, “Dead Drunk”, and the distant and tragedy-laden “War” and “Three Traumas” just the right side of unsettling, while hinting at the danger inherent in Jimmy P.’s damaged personality. There’s a much more conventionally romantic performance of the main theme for strings in “Madeleine”, and “Doll” has a softly lullabyish quality with its prominent harp solo, before the conclusive “Reality and Dream” gives a full performance of all the score’s main thematic, instrumental and conceptual elements during its almost 7-minute running time.

Jimmy P. has quite a lot in common with some of Shore’s more serious, dramatic, but inherently classical scores, like the aforementioned The Silence of the Lambs, or perhaps The Yards, eXistenZ or Before and After, and should be explored with caution by those who are only familiar with his work for Peter Jackson – although it is interesting how, having been so immersed in dwarves and elves for so long, some of the familiar instrumental phrasing and chord progressions remain apparent here. Personally, though, I love this kind of writing, and miss the times when Shore used to inflict deep, dark psychological trauma on his audiences with more regularity.

Track Listing: 1. Overture (1:58), 2. Jimmy P. (1:49), 3. The Barn (1:53), 4. Topeka, Kansas (2:12), 5. Dining Hall (1:31), 6. Dead Drunk (1:09), 7. Devereux (0:55), 8. Lily (0:58), 9. Madeleine (2:28), 10. Dreams (1:37), 11. War (2:33), 12. Three Traumas (3:06), 13. Psychotherapy (1:48), 14. Puppet Show (3:48), 15. Relapse (2:31), 16. Doll (1:16), 17. Oxyencephalogram (1:41), 18. Reality and Dream (6:58). Howe Records BO-006; Running Time: 40:23.

mamamanestenameriqueMA MAMAN EST EN AMÉRIQUE, ELLE A RENCONTRÉ BUFFALO BILL – Fabrice Aboulker
Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

Ma Maman Est En Amérique, Elle a Rencontré Buffalo Bill is an animated French film directed by Marc Boreal and Thibaud Catel, based on the graphic novel of the same name by Jean Regnaud and Émile Bravo. It tells the story of Jean, a six year old boy starting a new school. Having grown up without a mother, and not knowing who or where she is, he begins to make up tall tales about her and her adventurous life in order to impress his new school friends – even going so far as to create fake postcards and letters from her from Africa and the United States. However, his neighbor Michele, knows the truth about Jean’s real life, and the young friends bond over their unusual, imaginary family. The score for Ma Maman Est En Amérique, Elle a Rencontré Buffalo Bill is by the French composer and songwriter Fabrice Aboulker, and is yet another unexpected delight. Light, playful, thematic, and with some lovely passages for piano, strings and woodwinds, the score belies its children’s cartoon roots almost entirely by containing surprisingly sophisticated writing, all performed superbly by the Macedonian Radio Symphonic Orchestra, recorded in Skopje.

The opening cue, “Je Suis Très En Retard”, is lively and energetic, surrounding a central piano theme with modern string rhythms and rhythmic percussion ideas. “Chouette, Yvette Vient Me Chercher à l’École” is effortlessly sunny and upbeat, centered around a guitar and piano duet with light percussion accompaniment and a sprightly, optimistic outlook. Later, “Paul, c’est Mon Petit Frère”, “Maman Me Manque Beaucoup” and “Noël à la Maison” have has a sense of sentimental nostalgia, especially in their sweet harp and woodwind writing, with the latter having a lovely Christmassy feel. Conversely, cues like “J’aime le Chocolat Magique”, “Vénert, Il Est Méchant” and “Papa Va s’Acheter Une DS “ veer off a little too far into comedy mickey-mouse caper music, although even these pieces are fun and catchy.

Two of the best cues are probably “J’ai Reçu Une Carte Postale d’Amérique” and “Un Duel Aux Billes”, in which Aboulker pulls all the traditional western clichés out of his bag of tricks. The former contains a broad, expansive theme that Morricone or Bernstein could have written, while the latter is more intense and dramatic pseudo-action cue with electric guitars, banjo and harmonica that intentionally pastiches those classic western gunfights, with grizzled banditos fingering their pistols, squinting at each other through the high noon sun. “Maman Ne Reviendra Pas” and the conclusive “Ma Nouvelle Maîtresse“ contain the score’s most emotional orchestral writing, with tender string writing, several beautiful restatements of the central theme, and classy arrangements that make the finale of the score warm, charming and satisfying.

The album is rounded out by two performances of the original song “Avec Buffalo Bill”, one by the popular chanson vocalist Marc Lavoine, and one by Algerian-born singer Hani Boutaa. Although Ma Maman Est En Amérique, Elle a Rencontré Buffalo Bill is short and sweet, it nevertheless leaves a generally positive impression. It’s not going to change the world or win any awards, but it’s a pleasant diversion, and makes me want to seek out more of Fabrice Aboulker’s works.

Track Listing: 1. Avec Buffalo Bill (performed by Marc Lavoine) (3:48), 2. Je Suis Très En Retard (2:16), 3. Chouette, Yvette Vient Me Chercher à l’École (1:36), 4. J’aime le Chocolat Magique (1:18), 5. Paul, c’est Mon Petit Frère (1:16), 6. Vénert, Il Est Méchant (1:05), 7. J’ai Reçu Une Carte Postale d’Amérique (1:19), 8. Papa Va s’Acheter Une DS (1:23), 9. Maman Me Manque Beaucoup (2:26), 10. Avec Buffalo Bill (performed by Hani Boutaa) (3:36), 11. Au Secours, La Police ! (1:46), 12. Un Duel Aux Billes (2:54), 13. Noël à la Maison (2:01), 14. Maman Ne Reviendra Pas (3:25), 15. Ma Nouvelle Maîtresse (1:18). Label Anim 44; Running Time: 31:33.

quaidorsayQUAI D’ORSAY – Philippe Sarde
Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

Quai d’Orsay is a French satirical comedy from director Bertrand Tavernier, based on a comic book by Abel Lanzac and starring Thierry Lhermitte as Alexandre de Vorms, a fictional French foreign minister who is a thinly-veiled charicature of the real-life politician Dominique de Villepin. It portrays de Vorms as a pretentious, shallow buffoon, whose political career is continually saved via the intervention of his aide and lead speech-writer Arthur (Raphaël Personnaz), who continually steps in to stop his boss from making a fool of himself at official functions. Quai d’Orsay represents the ninth collaboration between director Tavernier and composer Philippe Sarde. The ironic and rhythmic score was recorded in Paris, orchestrated and conducted by Dominic Spagnolo, and features a number of local musicians including Ridardo Del Fra (bass), Jean Pierlot (percussion), Fréderic Couderd (saxophone) and Raphaël Didjaman (didgeridoo).

The opening “Arrivée au Quai d’Orsay” is a wonderfully comic scherzo, full of self-important movement and blustering energy, and highlighting a pompous trumpet line. Waltz-time rhythms and dance-like beats feature strongly throughout the score, in cues like “Le Bureau d’Arthur”, the flamboyant “La Routine”, and the contemporary jazz-inflected “Résolution d’Un Conflit” and “Sandwich Réflexion”, whose fluid piano lines and sultry saxophone solos are clearly intended to reflect the machinations of the French political system. Oddly haunting didgeridoo blasts also crop up from time to time, notably during “La Course du Ministre“ and the spiky, engaging “Arrivée à New York” possibly as a marker for the survival of the fittest tribalism that one has to endure to be a successful bureaucrat.

More urgent, dramatic music creeps in during “Oubanga”, which uses low hooting clarinets and tick-tock percussion to add a layer of mystery and danger. The conclusive “Discours à l’ONU” is the longest piece of score on the album at a shade under 5 minutes, and is a perfect suite of all the score has to offer, bringing together the interesting rhythms, the unusual orchestration touches, and the jazz inflections, with a lovely performance of the waltz-like main theme. I wish Philippe Sarde received more international exposure as he does, because he has a lovely elegant touch, uses consistency interesting instrumental choices, and has an ear for the underlying deeper meanings in film, especially when satire is involved.

Track Listing: 1. Arrivée au Quai d’Orsay (2:15), 2. Le Bureau d’Arthur (1:39), 3. La Routine (1:17), 4. Maupas (0:48), 5. Résolution d’Un Conflit (1:06), 6. Sandwich Réflexion (0:42), 7. Stabylo (1:23), 8. La Course du Ministre (1:10), 9. Arrivée à New York (1:00), 10. Oubanga (2:06), 11. Manuel de Résolution des Crises (1:51), 12. Réveil d’Urgence (2:10), 13. Discours à l’ONU (4:43), 14. Les Nuits d’Une Demoiselle (performed by Thierry Fremont) (0:45), 15. Les Nuits d’Une Demoiselle (performed by Colette Renard) (2:27), 16. Step on the Gas! (performed by April March and Bertrand Burgalat) (3:55), 17. Girl in Your Raindrop (performed by Jöel Daydé and Bertrand Burgalat) (3:40), 18. Arrow in the Wall (performed by Jöel Daydé and Bertrand Burgalat) (3:13). Quartet Records; Running Time: 36:11.

  1. christopher
    January 18, 2014 at 11:56 am

    Excellent, Jon. I love these regional reviews. I had never heard Eric Neveax before. Your article made me search him out. I see that he scored quite a few other things in 2013 .Have you heard BORGIA season 2, DIGNITY, THE ATTACK, or UN VILLAGE FRANCAIS? I’m just wondering if you have any other recommendations.

  2. christopher
    January 18, 2014 at 1:14 pm

    I will also add for discussions sake that the best score to a French film I heard this year was Armand Amar’s BELLE ET SEBASTIEN. It’s gorgeous and thoroughly enjoyable throughout. I also enjoyed his POUR UN FEMME and the MSM release PAPA S’EN VA EN GUERRE.

  3. January 19, 2014 at 2:12 am

    There’s so much to discover in the French area of composing.
    Although I am a fan of Rombi and Sarde, lots of new French composers enter the market and fortunately keep in line with the traditional way of scoring.

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