Best of 2013 in Film Music – Poland and Eastern Europe
AMBASSADA – Bartosz Chajdecki
Original Review by Jonathan Broxton
Ambassada is a Polish science fiction comedy film written and directed by Juliusz Machulski, about a young couple who move into a new apartment building, only to find that the building’s elevator is actually a time machine; using the machine, the couple find themselves going back in time to the 1940s and coming face-to-face with none other than Adolf Hitler! Yes, it is a comedy – it stars Magdalena Grąziowska, Bartosz Porczyk and Robert Więckiewicz, and has a score by one of the young rising stars of Polish film music, Bartosz Chajdecki.
The score is an interesting mix of contemporary jazz and large-scale science fiction action, which sounds like it shouldn’t work at all, but actually does. The opening cue, “Kosmopolityczny-Wood” introduces the Cosmopolitan theme, a fun piece of jazz, with a bouncy trumpet line offset by an accordion, piano and stand-up bass, which introduces the main characters and their deft comedic natures. “Żydowski Szybki” brings a hint of Jewish-Polish folk music into the score with a whirligig dance for harpsichord and strings, while “Woln Spokój”, “Holly” and the flamboyant finale “Nalewki Zmontowane“ return later in the score to revisit the jazz flavors of the opening cue.
However, the score often switches gears entirely, presenting much more dramatic and action-flavored music, as the two protagonists embark on their fantastical adventure. “Sci-Fi” is a strident and dramatic piece with a powerful, driving main theme, a pseudo-James Hornerish choral element right out of A Beautiful Mind, and an interlude for solo harpsichord underpinned with a tick-tock effect illustrating the time travel element of the story. “Marsz” features the first performance of an enormous and very dark march straight out of Gustav Holst’s playbook, a portentous and menacing portrayal of the film’s Nazi antagonists, which returns later in “Przyjazd Ribbentropa” and the thunderous “Bombardowanie”; the latter piece blends the Nazi march and the Sci-Fi theme to excellent effect. Both “Tajemniczy Długi” and “Odkrycie” return to the harpsichord motif, while the clockwise percussion comes more to the fore, in moments of tension and suspense.
Unfortunately the score for Ambassada is not available for commercial purchase at this time – just a promo provided by Chajdecki for promotional and award consideration purchases – but should it ever appear on the market, I would unhesitatingly recommend it.
Track Listing: 1. Kosmopolityczny – Wood (2:20), 2. Sci-Fi (2:44), 3. Przesluchanie Hitlera (1:59), 4. Żydowski Szybki (2:18), 5 Kosmopolityczny – Woln Spokój (1:49), 6. Marsz (2:53), 7. Tajemniczy Długi (3:00), 8. Narada Winda Enigma (1:42), 9. Żydowski Wolny (2:59), 10. Kosmopolityczny – Holly (2:19), 11. Przyjazd Ribbentropa (1:45), 12. Przechwycenie Enigmy (2:18), 13. Strzelanina Enigma (1:36), 14. Odkrycie (1:24), 15. Bombardowanie (4:16), 16. Nalewki Zmontowane (3:11). Promo; Running Time: 38:33.
BACZYŃSKI – Bartosz Chajdecki
Original Review by Jonathan Broxton
Baczyński is a film about the life of Krzysztof Kamil Baczyński, one of Poland’s most celebrated contemporary poets, who wrote powerful, romantic poetry while also acting as a member of a resistance movement against the Nazis during World War II. He was killed by a sniper in Warsaw in August 1944, aged just 23, but remains a popular and influential figure in Polish literature. The film was written and directed by Kordian Piwowarski, stars Mateusz Kosciukiewicz as Baczyński, and features a gorgeous and heartfelt score by Bartosz Chajdecki.
The opening and closing pieces, both titled “Miasto”, contain the City theme, reflecting the relationship between war-torn Warsaw in the 1940s, and the thriving cosmopolitan city is it today. The theme is actually unexpectedly contemporary, with guitars and a subtle orchestral accompaniment overlaid with modern, rhythmic synth elements which seem a little anachronistic given the setting for the film, but in musical terms it’s interesting, especially when a more jangly, folk-like feeling enters in the second performance of the theme.
However, this modernity quickly gives way to more classical writing, firstly in “Preludium”, a hesitant, intimate piano motif which gradually grows to incorporate hooting, Kilar-esque bassoons and, eventually, an emotional and stirring string theme. This heartfelt emotion, which is explored further in “Preludium – Wersja II” later in the score, typifies much of the rest of the score, as it explores the life, death and legacy of a man who gave everything for his country.
There’s a mysterious, moody depiction of Poland’s famed Tatra Mountains in “Tatry”; a beautiful piano/cello duet in the engrossing “Spojrzenie”, featuring a virtuoso performance by pianist Marek Szlezer which gradually increases in passion and intensity; more Wojciech Kilar influences in the deeply passionate “Retrospekcja”; and softly lamenting voices against a sweeping string dirge and solemn, stately piano chords in “Wojna” and the subsequent “Podroz”. My personal favorite cue, however, is the scintillating “Uwertura” – the Ghetto Overture – which features a spellbinding, classically rich violin solo that reminds me in parts of Ennio Morricone’s astonishing concerto from Canone Inverso, with all the positive connections that implies.
The soundtrack album, which is available for download via the 7-Digital platform, mixes excerpts from Chajdecki’s score with readings of several of Baczyński’s most celebrated poems; Chajdecki’s portions of the score run for around half an hour, and are well worth seeking out.
Track Listing: 1. Miasto (2:03), 2. Preludium (4:34), 3. Samotnosc (1:32),4. Tatry (1:31), 5. Spojrzenie (poetry reading by Jan Gabriel Szutkowski) (1:58), 6. Wojna (1:57), 7. Retrospekcja (3:46), 8. Pragnienia (poetry reading by Weronika Lewandowska) (1:41), 9. Spojrzenie (4:03), 10. Elegia (poetry reading by Kuba Malinowski) (1:56), 11. Preludium – Wersja II (3:17), 12. Jesien Pragnien (poetry reading by Jan Gabriel Szutkowski) (1:27), 13. Uwertura (1:43), 14. Szpital (poetry reading by Kamila Janiak) (1:59), 15. Wojna – Wersja II (1:56), 16. Byles Jak Wielkie Stare Drzewo… (poetry reading by Marta Marciniak) (1:48), 17. Podroz (1:53), 18. Z Glowa Na Karabinie (poetry reading by Janusz Jamanta Kulesza) (1:10), 19. Wybor (poetry reading by Jan Pawel Kowalewicz) (1:52), 20. Miasto 2 (2:46), 21. Baczynski – Piesn O Szczesciu (poetry reading by Mela Koteluk) (3:20) . 7-Digital; Running Time: 48:12.
CZAS HONORU – Bartosz Chajdecki
Original Review by Jonathan Broxton
One of the most celebrated and popular Polish television series of all time, Czas Honoru (A Time of Honor) tells the story of a group of friends, their lives and loves, as they struggle to survive in Nazi-occupied Poland during World War II. Starring Maciej Zakoscielny, Jakub Wesolowski and Jan Wieczorkowski, the show has been a smash hit in its native country since it first began airing on the TVP network in 2008; now in its sixth season, it continues to attract large domestic audiences, has made stars of its lead actors, and helped launch the career of its composer, Bartosz Chajdecki.
Chajdecki was nominated for an IFMCA Award for his work on the third season of the show, and with music this good, it’s not difficult to see why. The score is fully orchestral, fully orchestrated, and absolutely wonderful. The beautifully classical, piano-and-cello main title “Czołówka” features throughout a great deal of the score, either in direct thematic statements, or as deconstructed fragments embedded in other cues. A wonderfully rich polonaise, “Polonez”, reflects the musical heritage of Poland’s opulent past, and the love theme, “Miłość”, has an elegant sweetness to it, with its clean and graceful cello lines, while the more dirge-like “Getto” encapsulates the drudgery of life in occupied Warsaw with insistent snare rhythms, but captures the sense of heroism and defiance of its people with a searching string theme and a tender oboe countermelody.
There’s also some wonderfully stark, violent action music too. “Ucieczka” is a 5-minute tour-de-force of swirling string lines, thunderous brass blasts and chanted vocals interspersed with moody four-note interjections based on a deconstructed version of the main title. Later, “Pogoń” is a vivid chase cue full of movement and energy, with violas running band and forth over a con legno beat; when a male voice choir comes in half way through the cue chanting the name of the show, “czas honoru”, accompanied by vicious brass blasts and low, low piano chords, the effect is startlingly good. The percussive lines return in dangerous, threatening “Zagrożenie”, this time with an almost gypsy-like fiddle element fizzing over the top of more insistent vocals.
The commercial soundtrack for the show contains music from the first three seasons of the show; a promotional release containing music from Seasons 4, 5 and 6 was released in 2013. The promo is just as good as the commercial release, in that it takes the music heard on the regular release, and builds on it, while adding new themes and ideas to reflect the increasing scope of the show. “Going Forward” is a dramatic, thrusting piece which pits a surging string motif against a rhapsodic piano line and alternating brass phrasing, eventually emerging into a new variation on the main theme, in which the melody seems to have been inverted to give it a new spin.
“Peace” has a Lisa Gerrard/Lisbeth Scott vibe to it, with a sultry, almost Middle Eastern female vocal effect that speaks of loss and longing, while its counterpart “Fragile Peace” again features a female vocal, but this time with a more angelic aspect, cooing softly over a deconstructed statement of the Czas Honoru theme. “Sleeping with a Spy” starts off with a florid piano solo, before eventually emerging into a romantic string wash of passionate intent that builds towards an appropriately euphoric climax; it’s sibling, “Spy”, starts in similar fashion, but goes down a much darker road as it develops, with more intense strings, descending woodwind motifs, and a slightly harsh, metallic effect that gives the score an appropriate sense of intensity and tension.
There’s action here too – “Conflict” is another one of those pulsating pieces with a scattershot, helter-skelter string beat and jazzy pianos, and even some more contemporary-sounding synth beats to give it some muscularity. The “Time Tango” takes the traditional instruments associated with that most exotic of dances – accordion, piano, strings, horns – and blends it into a piece of music which is one part ballroom seduction, one part Matrix action sequence, but is wholly something to behold. When the accordion starts to play a variation on the main theme during the cue’s second half, you know you’re listening to something special.
Track Listing (Seasons 1-3 Commercial CD): 1. Czołówka/Opening Title (1:34), 2. Ucieczka/Escape (5:05), 3. Polonez (3:57), 4. Łapanka (3:26), 5. Egzekucja/Execution (2:51), 6. Warszawa (3:56), 7. Getto/Ghetto (3:45), 8. Niepokó/Anxietyj (5:13), 9. Pogoń/Chase (4:25), 10. Okupacja/Occupation (3:28), 11. Miłość/Love (2:53), 12. Oczekiwanie/Waiting (3:01), 13. Zagrożenie/Danger (3:25), 14. Wojna/War (2:47), 15. Spotkanie/Meeting (4:13), 16. Czas Honoru/A Time of Honor (5:38). Polskie Radio SA PRCD-1326; Running Time: 50:10.
Track Listing (Seasons 4-6 Promo): 1. Opening Title (1:34), 2. Going Forward (5:09), 3. Peace (3:41), 4. Conflict (3:30), 5. Sleeping With a Spy (3:07), 6. Time Tango (4:56), 7. Fragile Peace (3:00), 8. Spy (5:46). Promo; Running Time: 30:46.
GAGARIN: FIRST IN SPACE – George Kallis
Original Review by Jonathan Broxton
Gagarin: First in Space is a Russian film directed by Pavel Parkhomenko, about the life of Yuri Gagarin who, in 1961 became first human to journey into outer space, when his Vostok spacecraft completed an orbit of the Earth. The film – which, to Russians, has a similar sense of national pride and honor as films like The Right Stuff and Apollo 13 does to Americans – stars Yaroslav Zhalnin as Gagarin, and features a rousing, heroic score by Cypriot composer George Kallis.
Kallis’s music is big, heroic and patriotic, written for a full orchestra with numerous stirring passages of great emotional weight. After a low-key opening in “The Night Before”, “Vostok” is bold and dramatic, with a lovely, lyrical piano line and several expectant crescendos. When the softly chanting choir, singing in Russian, enters the mix half way through the cue, the effect is outstanding. Similarly, the love theme for Gagarin and his wife in “Yuri and Valentina” is lush and romantic, with a tinkling balalaika underpinning the sweeping strings. One of the best cues in the score is “The Launch of Vostok”, with several minutes of tense, dramatic build-up that eventually emerges into an enormous, full-throated choral-and-orchestral celebration of Soviet technological triumph. The subsequent “Earth from Above” continues the trend, as does the noble-sounding finale, “Glory”.
Much of the rest of the score continues in a similar fashion, although some of the later cues do offer subtle variations on the themes, as well as new and interesting textures. “Levity” and “Cosmos” are gorgeous, balletic pieces with an angelic chorus, serene, wonder-filled depictions of the awe Gagarin must have felt at beholding the Earth for the first time. “Command Headquarters” has a more serious, martial feel, and “The Hanging” is much more brutal, with dissonant piano and string textures enhanced by screeching, harsh electronic effects. Probably the most exhilarating action sequence is “The Tumble”, a flurry of string cascades, thunderous percussion and choral outbursts that are quite superb.
George Kallis is definitely a composer worth watching. He has an old-school, unashamedly emotional writing style that is to appealing old-school, unashamedly emotional listeners like me; he knows how to use his orchestra, understands the differences between bombast and subtlety, light and shade, and can write a pretty memorable tune too.
Track Listing: 1. The Night Before (1:04), 2. Vostok (2:10), 3. Yuri and Valentina (2:30), 4. Goodbye Brothers (1:56), 5. The Launch of Vostok (4:06), 6. Earth from Above (1:56), 7. Good News (2:05), 8. Levity (2:04), 9. Command Headquarters (1:10), 10. Discussions (1:30), 11. The Hanging (1:49), 12. Cosmos (3:48), 13. Goodbyes (2:12), 14. Vostok in Space (2:40), 15. The Tumble (0:56), 16. Remember Me in Prayer (2:48), 17. People in the Streets (2:54), 18. Father (1:54), 19. Falling and Remembering (1:49), 20. Orange Parachute (4:08), 21. Glory (3:10). Moviescore Media MMS13007; Running Time 48:39.
LORD OF THE CARPATHIANS – Bartlomiej Gliniak
Original Review by Jonathan Broxton
Lord of the Carpathians – Niedźwiedź: Władca Gór in its original Polish – is a feature documentary directed by Krystian Matysek about brown bears living in the Carpathian Mountains of eastern Europe. A well-regarded and well-made film, it won awards at the International Festival of Films on the Environment in Banska Bystrica, and at the International Festival of Nature Films in Lodz in 2012, before recieving a short theatrical release at the beginning of 2013.
Nature documentaries often elicit great scores, mainly due to the fact that the music has to convey a lot of the emotion and action in the narrative, and Lord of the Carpathians is no different. The score is by Bartlomiej Gliniak, and it’s outstanding: dark and menacing at times, energetic at others, generally fully orchestral, and with a thematic sweep that is quite beguiling. The main title, “Niedźwiedź: Władca Gór – Czołówka”, is surprisingly dark, with rumbling drums and moody electronics beneath a swirling, bass-heavy string theme. The weight and might of the bears – the top of their food chain – is illustrated perfectly by the piece, which captures the magnificence of these powerful creatures, but as the score progresses it moves into much more lyrical, emotional territory, depicting their relationships with their ursine families and their lives in the sometimes harsh climate they inhabit.
“Zima” has a twinkly, magical sound with a gorgeous central cello melody, capturing the beauty and timelessness of the mountains in winter. ‘Strumyk” has an ethereal, cleverly-structured echoing vocal effect surrounded by chimes, breathy pan-pipes, and lightly dancing orchestral textures that mimic the endless movement of a river. “Wycieczka w Góry” is unexpectedly tense and dramatic, with slithering woodwinds and low-registered string and brass clusters capturing the danger inherent in the furry protagonist’s trek across the peaks. This continues into the equally captivating “U Górali”, which features some fearsome string runs that insinuate jeopardy and aggression, as well as “Drugi Niedźwiedź”, which has some dramatic rhapsodic piano chords and brass whole notes towards its conclusion.
One thing I especially love about Gliniak’s work here is the innovativeness he shows in his orchestration choices and instrumental combinations. Every cue has some unusual or unexpected texture which makes the musical makeup of the score fascinating. Whether it’s the prepared piano and woodblocks in “Wycieczka w Góry”, the pizzicato sequence in “Smolarze”, the Rachel Portman-esque woodwinds and folk-inflected cellos of “Rumunia”, the accordions of “Ukraina”, the snake-like string textures in “Wilki”, or the soothing voices of “Polowanie”, every facet of the score shows a composer completely at ease with his own technique. Sometimes the idea lasts for just a few seconds, sometimes across multiple cues, but it makes the score endlessly absorbing.
Track Listing: 1. Niedźwiedź: Władca Gór – Czołówka (2:31), 2. Zima/Winter (4:54), 3. Strumyk/Brook (2:02), 4. Władca Karpat/Lord of the Carpathians (2:28), 5. Wycieczka w Góry/Hike in the Mountains (5:27), 6. U Górali/In the Highlands (2:27), 7. Pierwsza Samotna Wyprawa/First Lonely Expedition (3:39), 8. Drugi Niedźwiedź/The Second Bear (5:34), 9. Smolarze (2:19), 10. Rumunia/Romania (4:36), 11. Ukraina/Ukraine (2:57), 12. Niedźwiedzia Przygoda/Bear Adventure (2:23), 13. Wilki/Wolves (3:49), 14. Polowanie/Hunting (3:30), 15. Niedźwiedzia Rodzina/Bear Family (4:24). Metro Films Music; Running Time: 53:00.
OSZUKANE – Bartlomiej Gliniak
Original Review by Jonathan Broxton
Oszukane – known in English as “Decieved” – is a Polish drama film directed by Marcin Solarz. It stars Sylwia Boroń and Carolina Chapko as Aneta and Natalia, two teenage girls who meet by chance, but then discover that they are actually twin sisters, separated at birth as a result of a mistake made by the hospital in which they were born. The score for the film is by a young, exceptionally talented Polish composer, Bartlomiej Gliniak, who impressed with his breakout score Teah in 2008, and is building quite a reputation for himself as one of the rising stars of Polish film music.
Written in the classical idiom, mainly for strings and piano, Gliniak’s music is lovely, slightly romantic in its general aspect, but not afraid to explore different emotional angles, and has several flowing, liquid themes running through the score that remind me of something Dario Marianelli might write. The opening pair, “The Visit” and “Bicycle Tour” are light and summery, both featuring expressive piano lines dancing underneath a prancing, upbeat bed of strings. Soft synth tones give “Remembrance” a sense of loss and dreamy introspection, which carries on through the “Meeting in the Cloth Hall”, the film’s central moment of dramatic realization. As the score progresses, several cues stand out. “Swings” is an interesting cue, blending icy, watery synth tones and a more modern percussive beat with a variation on the main piano motif. “Cruise” is simply beautiful, one of the best cues in the score, an undulating multi-layered string line with a strong, hopeful outlook; this is tempered by the more dramatic “A Quarrel on the Pier”, which is all sustained whole notes, low woodwind clusters and Maurice Jarre-style electronic textures.
“A Boom” is the closest the score comes to having an action cue, a frenzy of overlapping string scales and an urgent, bold cello rhythm, and this cue seems to mark a turning point on the score, as from then on things become much darker, more dramatic, and more emotional. Cues like “Suicide” play up the more tragic elements of the story, especially via its stark vocal effect at the end of the cue, while the brief but memorable “Birthday Party” contains so much sorrow on what should be a happy day. “The Show” has a searching, magical violin line that is to die for, and the score’s finale, anchored by the five-minute “Sisters”, is just gorgeous, with Gliniak extracting every ounce of emotional content from his violinists and cellists to tug at the audience’s heart strings.
The only oddities are “Twin Sisters”, “Fake Kid” and “The Club”, a trio of a throbbing, authentic dance music pieces which would be much more at home in the nightclubs of Europe, but illustrate perfectly Gliniak’s versatility.
This is a very impressive score from a composer who will likely be unfamiliar to most people outside Poland, but whose work deserves wider recognition. I don’t know what it is about the Poles – but with Preisner and Kilar, Kaczmarek and Korzeniowski, Bartosz Chajdecki and now Gliniak, there is clearly something in the water flowing out of Warsaw and Krakow which turns people into outstanding film composers. This comes highly recommended, and with a notification to keep our eye on this man.
Track Listing: 1. The Visit (1:22), 2. Bicycle Tour (2:18), 3. Remembrance (1:43), 4. Meeting in the Cloth Hall (4:20), 5. Picnic (2:55), 6. Swings (1:21), 7. Cruise (1:57), 8. A Quarrel on the Pier (1:44), 9. A Boom (1:32), 10. Daddy (1:57), 11. Suicide (3:09), 12. Parting (1:40), 13. Birthday Party (1:33), 14. The Show (1:54), 15. Sisters (5:00), 16. Twin Sisters (3:46), 17. Fake Kid (2:03), 18. The Club (1:52). Gliniak Music; Running Time: 42:52.
SYBERIADA POLSKA – Krzesimir Dębski
Original Review by Jonathan Broxton
Syberiada Polska is an epic wartime historical drama, directed by Janusz Zaorski, based on the novel by Zbigniew Domino. It tells the story of a family of Polish Jews who are deported to Russia during World War II. It follows the fortunes of one family, specifically the family’s youngest son Staszek, who are sent to Siberia and must struggle for survival against the harsh Siberian winter, and the cruel camp commandant who decides their fate. The film stars Adam Woronowicz, Sonia Bohosiewicz, and Pawel Krucz as Staszek, and is scored by composer Krzesimir Dębski using the Orkiestra Sinfonietta Cracovia.
Dębski’s score is steeped in Polish folk music; lush, classical, emotional, performed mainly by a string orchestra augmented by piano, accordion, pennywhistle and occasional voices. The tone of the score is generally solemn, as one would expect for a story about such a great tragedy, but there is hope and romance there too. The main theme, which is introduced in the opening “Syberiada Polska”, features prominently throughout the score, and generally tends to concentrate on the desperate plight of the protagonists in their harsh environment. Recapitulations in the downbeat “Wywozka” and “Piesn Samotnosci”, keep the score rooted in its thematic consistency.
A lovely, light, waltz-time theme appears in “Spokojna, Kresowa Wies”, clearly depicting the happiness in the protagonists’ lives before the onset of Nazism, but this gaiety doesn’t last. The romance theme, for Staszek and the girl he unexpectedly meets and falls in love with in the Siberian wastes, actually reminds me somewhat of Nino Rota’s Romeo and Juliet. It first appears in “Piesn Sybirakow” – the Song of the Siberians – which begins with a melody carried by an accordion which is at once mournful and beautiful, before moving softly into the first performance of the theme by the full string section. It re-occurs in deconstructed form in “Wszedzie Snieg”, and later in a more conventionally romantic setting in “Bez Poczatku i Konca – Tajga”.
Other pieces of note include a third theme, “Teskna Piesn” – The Song of Longing – which introduces a pretty, but haunting solo female vocalization, pining for the sunny homeland Staszek and his family were forced to leave behind. The conventions of Jewish folk music come through via a lamenting solo fiddle and haunting throat singers in “Zydowski Pogrzeb”. The Song of Longing and the guttural throat singers combine excellently in “Tren”, a cue which merges hope and despair perfectly, while the finale in “Powrot do Polski” presents extended versions of several of the main themes accompanied by a soft choir, celebrating those who lived and mourning those who died.
Dębski’s score is lovely, although your tolerance for it will depend on your tolerance for folk-inflected orchestral scores with a high degree of classical elegance but little in the way of action. The trio of recurring themes is helpful, but I can see how this would begin to become tiresome for those less attuned to this type of music. The album, which is available for download via the 7-Digital platform, also includes two original songs: “Syberiada” performed by Anna Wyszkoni, which is very good if you have an affinity for Polish folk-rock, and the intimate, whispery “Nim Kartka Splonie” performed by Anna Jurksztowicz, which is based around Dębski’s romance melody.
Track Listing: 1. Syberiada (performed by Anna Wyszkoni) (3:54), 2. Syberiada Polska (3:51), 3. Spokojna, Kresowa Wies (3:12), 4. Wywozka (3:37), 5. Piesn Sybirakow (2:43), 6. Wszedzie Snieg (2:04), 7. Serce w Tajdze mi Przemarzlo (2:06), 8. Teskna Piesn (2:08), 9. Nasz Nowy Dom – Barak (2:30), 10. Zydowski Pogrzeb (1:40), 11. Bez Poczatku i Konca – Tajga (2:41), 12. Wyreb Lasu (2:02), 13. Tren (3:14), 14. Cmentarzysko (1:29), 15. Piesn Samotnosci (1:56), 16. Sowiecka Laska (2:28), 17. Kraina Szczescia (3:27), 18. Powrot do Polski (5:12), 19. Nim Kartka Splonie (performed by Anna Jurksztowicz) (3:38). 7-Digital; Running Time: 53:52.
VENUS IN FUR – Alexandre Desplat
Original Review by Jonathan Broxton
Venus in Fur, a French-Polish co-production, is Roman Polanski’s big-screen adaptation of David Ives’s play, an erotic comedy-drama about the unusual relationship that develops between a theater director and a needy, manipulative actress during the audition process for a production of Leopold von Sacher-Masoch’s classic story of sexuality, desire and masochism, Venus in Furs. The film, which stars Mathieu Almaric as the director and Emmanuelle Seigner as the actress, explores the shifts in power between the pair as the relationship between those creating the play begins to mirror the one between the characters in the story itself.
Venus in Fur is the third collaboration between Polanski and composer Alexandre Desplat, after The Ghost Writer in 2010 and Carnage in 2011. Unusually, like he did before with the scores for Les Corps Impatients in 2003 and De Battre Mon Coeur s’est Arrêté in 2005, Desplat has released his entire score as a single track, this time lasting a whopping 37 minutes. Although the structure of the score makes it difficult to pick out highlight moments and identify specific elements, this does not have any bearing on the music itself, which is as excellent as it always is. As the film balances delicately between farcical comedy and erotic drama, so Desplat’s score treads that fine line too. He treats the relationship between the director and actress like a dance, so the score – as is often his way – is built entirely around variations of a recurring waltz-like theme.
The score veers from high camp to high drama; it opens with a peculiar theme of quirky rhythms and unusual instrumental textures – woodwinds and heavy percussion and tinkling cimbaloms – which eventually develops into a much more sedate and classical piano variation. Around the seven-minute mark a more dark and moody texture emerges, bass flutes, soft gongs and low-end pianos, but all still underpinned by the incessant waltz rhythm. There’s a lovely repeat performance of the main melody around the 13:00, given a touch of magic with feather-light glockenspiels and little violin trills. Towards the end of the suite some more traditionally sultry, seductive music comes into play, with a slightly Middle Eastern-feel, with harps and bells providing a Salome-like sense of mystery and passion, before the whole thing ends with a comedic, bulbous restatement of the main theme.
Despite the unusual manner in which the score was released, this is a clever and witty piece of work by Desplat, whose music in 2013 was written for films that were much more independent and idiosyncratic in nature than previous years. The Frenchman displays a sly sense of humor and an unexpected touch of eroticism in Venus in Furs, which is worth seeking out for those who are fans of his smaller, more off-the-beaten-track efforts.
Track Listing: 1. La Venus à la Fourrure – Venus in Fur (36:58). Playtime Records; Running Time: 36:58