Best Scores of 2015 – Europe
The third installment in my series of articles looking at the best “under the radar” scores from around the world concentrates on music from films from mainland Europe. I know this is a very ‘broad brush’ description, but there are a number of countries this year where there are just one or two standout works which couldn’t justify an entire article to themselves, so I decided to present you with this bumper crop from across the entire continent instead! The scope is quite wide-ranging, and includes everything from French documentaries to Polish serial killer thrillers, Russian adventure movies, and Greek romantic dramas, by written Oscar-winners and exciting newcomers alike.
BELLE ET SÉBASTIEN: L’AVENTURE CONTINUE – Armand Amar
Belle et Sébastien: L’Aventure Continue (Belle and Sebastian: The Adventure Continues) is a French children’s adventure film directed by Christian Duguay, a sequel to the 2013 film Belle et Sébastien. It stars Félix Bossuet, Tchéky Karyo, Thierry Neuvic, and Jeffrey Noël, and follows the continued adventures of 10-year old Sébastien, who lives in post-World War II France with his father and his faithful dog, Belle, in a chalet in the Alps. Sébastien is eagerly waiting for his sister, Angélina, to return home, but is devastated when news comes that her plane has crashed in a remote mountain range. Despite all evidence to the contrary, Sébastien believes that his sister may have survived the crash; as such, he enlists the help of a gruff former pilot to lead the search party, and sets off with Belle to rescue his sister before the elements close in.
Belle et Sébastien: L’Aventure Continue is scored by Israeli-born French composer Armand Amar, who also wrote the score for the original Belle et Sébastien film, as well as acclaimed and popular works such as Amen, Indigènes, Le Premier Cri, Le Concert, and Home. Although Amar is best known for his work on documentaries, especially nature documentaries, he’s not averse to belting out a fully-orchestral children’s adventure score, and that’s what Belle et Sébastien: L’Aventure Continue is. Amar’s score is light, lyrical, and full of life, with a medium sized orchestra augmented by guitars and a smattering of synths. The “Overture” presents the score’s main theme, an upbeat and positive piece that shares some stylistic hallmarks with the music of Bruce Broughton, especially scores like Homeward Bound. The theme is also surprisingly malleable: it appears as haunting duet between violin and guitar in “Tristesse”, with music box prettiness in “Déception,” and often as the melodic centerpiece of the action music.
Some of the action music is quite rousing, with cues like “La Luge” and “A la Recherche d’Angélina” being full of a rhythmic energy and a child-like sense of fun and adventure. Some more dark and threatening textures, especially for brass, hammer home the seriousness of Angélina;s situation via cues like “L’Accident d’Angélina,” “Bagarre Dans l’Avion,” “Belle Contre l’Ours,” the quite stark and intimidating “Fuite des Animaux,” the powerful “Course à Travers les Flammes,” and the exciting, drum-laden “Poursuivis Par le Feu,” but these are counterbalanced by warm, summery, delicate pieces for piano and strings in cues like “Depart Pour les Retrouvailles,” the more insistent “A la Rencontre de Père”, and the beautifully rhapsodic “Tu Es Mon Père (L’Oiseau)”. The magnificent, sweeping “Sébastien Sauve Angélina” is one of the most traditionally heroic and poignant pieces I have yet heard from Amar.
It’s all very appealing, tonal and consonant, making wide use of the orchestra, and continuing to prove that Amar is one of the best composers working in French cinema today. The soundtrack, available on Gaumont Records and via iTunes, features 49 minutes of score, plus two very pretty versions of an original French-language song, “Belle,” one performed by chanson pop singer Zaz, and one performed wordlessly by 14-year-old actress and model Thylane Blondeau.
Track Listing: 1. Belle (performed by Zaz) (2:56), 2. Ouverture (2:21), 3. La Luge (2:03), 4. L’Accident d’Angélina (0:41), 5. Départ Pour Les Retrouvailles (1:08), 6. L’Attente (2:03), 7. Tristesse (1:09), 8. La Médaille (1:31), 9. A la Rencontre de Père (2:16), 10. A la Recherche d’Angélina (3:49), 11. Bagarre Dans l’Avion (2:14), 12. Seul Dans la Forêt (2:10), 13. Père et Fils (1:16), 14. Tu Es Mon Père (L’Oiseau) (2:54), 15. Belle Contre l’Ours (2:10), 16. Arrivée au Camp (2:25), 17. Déception (2:30), 18. Belle (performed by Thylane Blondeau) (1:47), 19. Fuite des Animaux (1:20), 20. L’Arbre (2:09), 21. Course à Travers les Flammes (1:29), 22. Suspendu Dans le Vide (2:08), 23. Sébastien Sauve Angélina (2:32), 24. Poursuivis Par le Feu (3:28), 25. Colpo di Fulmine (1:39). Gaumont, 52 minutes 13 seconds.
CHIAMATEMI FRANCESCO: IL PAPA DELLA GENTE – Arturo Cardelús
Chiamatemi Francesco: Il Papa Della Gente (Call Me Francis: The Pope of the People) is an Italian feature-length biopic about the life of Argentine Jesuit priest Jorge Mario Bergoglio, beginning when he was a young priest serving in the most deprived parts of Buenos Aires, and culminating in his rise to power in the Vatican, where in 2013 he became the head of the catholic church, taking the name Pope Francis. The film is directed by Daniele Luchetti, stars Rodrigo de la Serna as Francis, and has an original score by Spanish composer and pianist Arturo Cardelús.
Cardelús studied piano performance at the Royal Academy of Music in London, at the Franz Liszt Academy in Budapest, and the Conservatorio Superior de Música in Salamanca, Spain, before shifting his focus, studying composition and film scoring at Boston’s Berklee College of Music, where he graduated summa cum laude. He made his film music debut in 2011, but Chiamatemi Francesco: Il Papa Della Gente is the first score of his to receive any real international attention. Recorded in Hungary with the famed Budapest Art Orchestra under classical conductor Péter Pejtsik, and featuring solos by flamenco guitarist and composer Juanito Pascual, the score is lovely, blending contemporary orchestral scoring with quasi-religious overtones with more than a hint of the tango, speaking to Francis’s Argentine roots.
The driving main theme, heard in the chronologically confused first cue “End Credits – Main Theme,” is a wonderfully dramatic, florid piece for strings, a rolling piano, and a gorgeous solo violin element infused with the rhythm of the tango. It sounds less like a theme for a religious leader, and instead sounds more like a theme for a wild and passionate romance, but in purely musical terms it’s a bravado opening, especially considering that for most people it will be their introduction to Cardelús’s work. It features strongly in several cues throughout the score, receiving a notable subsequent performance in the Kilar-esque cello-heavy “Lament”.
Pascual’s lovely guitar performances enliven “Bergoglio,” ”Esther,” “Where Are You From?,” and the conclusive “Pray For Me” with a evocative Latin spirit that recalls the best of Astor Piazzolla, the father of the Argentine tango. Elsewhere, cues like “A New Pope” are tender and intimate, focusing on dramatic scoring for piano and strings that speaks to Francis’s religious convictions, and genuine desire to help make the world a better place. Conversely, the superbly dramatic “Inspection,” the ominous “Arrested,” the moody “Angelelli,” and the brooding and dangerous-sounding “It’s Over” are more oppressive, juxtaposing Francis’s piano theme with more insistent string writing and Carter Burwell-esque woodwinds, commenting on political corruption and social unrest that Argentina underwent during Francis’s youth.
This is a very impressive score from a clearly very talented young composer, whose career I will be watching with eagerness from this point on. The score is available for purchase on the Italian label Taodue/RTI.
Track Listing: 1. End Credits – Main Theme (2:12), 2. Bergoglio (1:44), 3. A New Pope (2:10), 4. Inspection (2:55), 5. Videla (1:22), 6. Esther (1:32), 7. Are You Bergoglio? (1:21), 8. You Need to Learn (0:54), 9. Arrested (2:07), 10. Angelelli (1:41), 11. It’s Over (0:49), 12. I Will Baptize Him (1:22), 13. Where Are You From? (1:03), 14. Lament (1:34), 15. Church (0:54), 16. A Letter from the Pope (1:12), 17. Pray For Me (2:51). Taodue/RTI , 27 minutes 42 seconds.
ENAS ALLOS KOSMOS – Kostas Christides
Enas Allos Kosmos (Worlds Apart) is a romantic drama from Greece, written and directed by Christopher Papakaliatis. The film looks at three separate narratives, each following a love story between a foreigner and a Greek national, representing a different generation falling in love, set against the backdrop of the financial and socioeconomic turmoil that has plagued Southern Europe in recent years. The film’s only famous face (at least to North American audiences) is Oscar-winner J. K. Simmons, and it is unlikely ever to be released in mainstream cinemas in the United States, but I cannot recommend the score highly enough.
The score for the film is by Greek composer Kostas Christides, who has worked in the American film music industry as an assistant to Christopher Young since 1998 on scores like Swordfish, The Exorcism of Emily Rose, Ghost Rider, Spider-Man 3, and Priest, and is now one of Greek cinema’s rising musical stars. His pedigree is confirmed beyond doubt by the opening score cue, the suite “World’s Apart,” a lush, fully orchestral extravaganza of swirling, stirring string writing, dancing woodwind accents, more intimate and sentimental sequences for solo violin, piano, guitar and harp, and powerful moments of brass-led majesty. It has a touch of Christopher Young as his most lush and emotional in the overall sound – how could it not? – especially recalling things like Priest, but it is to Christides’s credit that he maintains his own musical identity despite those allusions.
After this stunning opening, the rest of the score is generally more low key, but no less impressive. The “Prologue” and the subsequent “Innocence in Love” revisit the emotional solo violin and piano writing with excellent effect. “Marching to Lay Off” is a stark, strident, dramatic piece, for a more virtuosic solo violin, again with hints of the score for Priest, especially in the piano clusters and the contrapuntal string writing. “Once Upon a Time in the Words” and “Eros and Soul” have a passionate earnestness, again featuring strong string writing, while the “Elliniko in 3/4″ has a pretty dance-like texture in is florid, expressive piano lines. There is some more contemporary writing too, such as in the guitar-heavy “Journeys” and synth-heavy suspense overtones of “Derailed Minds”, but this is continually overshadowed by Christides’s more traditional orchestral textures: “Distance in D-Spair” is a hauntingly beautiful string lament, while the conclusive trio, “Ode to Lost Youth,” “Absence” and the spectacular “A Year Later,” push all the right thematic and emotional buttons.
The soundtrack album, on the Greek label Minis-EMI, contains almost 50 minutes of score spread over 16 cues, and is padded out with a plethora of jazz and romance songs, including selections by Marlene Dietrich, Nat King Cole, Billie Holliday, and others. However, it is Kostas Christides’s music that is clearly the star of the show, with the 7-minute “Worlds Apart” suite being worth the price of album on its own.
Track Listing: 1. You Do Something To Me (performed by Marlene Dietrich) (2:57), 2. I’m Thru With Love (performed by The Nat King Cole Trio) (2:53), 3. I’m a Fool To Want You (performed by Billie Holiday) (3:22), 4. Poso Lipame (performed by Sofia Vebo) (3:17), 5. Danke Schoen (performed by Wayne Newton) (2:36), 6. Bang Bang (performed by Monophonics) (3:31), 7. San Magemeno to Mialo Mou/Blue Drag (performed by Gadjo Dilo) (5:11), 8. Worlds Apart (7:25), 9. Prologue (1:30), 10. Marching to Lay Off (1:57), 11. Once Upon a Time in the Words (2:39), 12. Elliniko in 3/4 (1:34), 13. Eros and Soul (2:41), 14. Executive Decisions in Blue (1:42), 15. Journeys (3:40), 16. Distance in D-Spair (2:08), 17. Fatal Repercussions (2:45), 18. Allured by Seductive Emotions (3:27), 19. Derailed Minds (3:43), 20. Innocence in Love (1:32), 21. Ode to Lost Youth (4:35), 22. Absence (3:57), 23. A Year Later (4:32). Minis-EMI, 73 minutes 45 seconds.
EVERY THING WILL BE FINE – Alexandre Desplat
Every Thing Will Be Fine is a German-made English-language drama film directed by Wim Wenders and written by Bjørn Olaf Johannessen. It stars James Franco as Thomas Eldan, a writer who while driving aimlessly around the outskirts of town after a trivial domestic quarrel, accidentally hits and kills a child, and spends the next 12 years examining the effect of the tragedy on his life and the life of those around him. The film, which also stars Charlotte Gainsbourg, Marie-Josée Croze, Robert Naylor, Patrick Bauchau, Peter Stormare, and Rachel McAdams, was screened at the Berlin and Toronto Film Festivals early in 2015, before receiving wide release in Germany in April.
The score for Every Thing Will Be Fine is by Alexandre Desplat, who was working with Wenders for the first time on this film. The score was a very late addition to the project, having only been recorded by the Symphony Orchestra of Gothenburg, the national orchestra of Sweden, one week before the festival premiere in Berlin, but despite its quick turnaround, it still manages to convey all the emotions of the film, a beautiful combination of sadness and regret that is very effective indeed.
The main theme, “Every Thing Will Be Fine,” is gorgeous, a tender lament for strings and piano that gets to the heart of the film’s central tragedy immediately, and has an almost Miklós Rósza-esque religioso overtone, with touches of Georges Delerue and even John Barry. Desplat develops his main theme throughout the score – not in terms of orchestration, which remains the same throughout – but in terms of tempo and key, which somehow seems to convey different moods through the subtlest of changes. Variations in cues such as the sorrowful “Thomas Writes,” the determined-sounding “On the Ferry,” and the conclusive “Reconciliation,” allow the theme to breathe, and solidify itself as the score’s main identity.
Delicate, wavering string textures typify cues like “The House in the Snow,” “Looking for the Light,” “Spring,” and the impressionistic “Summer,” while darker ideas with heavier basses and sense of impending doom make cues like “The Accident,” “Suicide Attempt,” and “The Fairground Disaster,” poignant and emotionally potent. Elsewhere, the waltz-like rhythms of “A Strange Phone Call” are prototypical Desplat, while the insistent, stabbing pianos of “The Letters” and “Book Signing in the Park” give the score an unexpected boost of energy, even if at times it has a confusing, twisted quality that is reminiscent of Bernard Herrmann.
The delicacy and clarity of the orchestration, which has been a Desplat hallmark for years, is especially noticeable here, where the tiniest nuances in the performances, the way the different parts of the string section play off the piano in different combinations, somehow manages to make a score that could very easily have become repetitive have a great deal of life and variation. The soundtrack for Every Thing Will Be Fine was released through the director’s own record label, Wenders Music, and is available digitally through most major retailers; it will appeal to fans of Desplat’s smaller-scale, classically-inflected works the most.
Track Listing: 1. Every Thing Will Be Fine (2:47), 2. The House in the Snow (1:58), 3. The Accident (2:37), 4. Autumn (2:25), 5. Looking for the Light (2:39), 6. Spring (2:32), 7. Thomas Writes (1:38), 8. On the Ferry (1:00), 9. A Strange Phone Call (1:22), 10. The Letters (2:50), 11. Suicide Attempt (2:19), 12. Book Signing in the Park (2:35), 13. The Fairground Disaster (2:39), 14. Winter (2:30), 15. Tomas’s Success (0:55), 16. Kate Leaves the House (1:30), 17. Summer (2:45), 18. Kate’s House at Night (2:23), 19. Christopher’s Sorrow (1:30), 20. Reconciliation (4:03). Wenders Music, 44 minutes 55 seconds.
FATHERS & DAUGHTERS – Paolo Buonvino
Fathers & Daughters is an Italian-American drama film starring Russell Crowe, directed by Gabriele Muccino, who previously directed the Will Smith dramas The Pursuit of Happyness and Seven Pounds. Crowe plays Jake Davis, a Pulitzer-winning writer grappling with being a widower and father after a mental breakdown. 27 years later, his grown daughter, Katie (Amanda Seyfried), struggles to forge connections of her own. The film, which also stars Aaron Paul, Diane Kruger, Quvenzhané Wallis, Bruce Greenwood, Jane Fonda, and Octavia Spencer, opened in cinemas in Italy in October 2015, and is scheduled to hit cinemas in North America sometime in 2016.
When the film first began post-production, in May 2014, James Horner was announced as being attached to score the film, but eventually he was replaced by 45-year-old Italian composer Paolo Buonvino, who has worked with director Muccino several times before, and is best known internationally for his score for L’Ultimo Bacio, winner of the 2002 Sundance Film Festival Audience Award, as well as titles such as Ricordati Di Me (2003), Romanzo Criminale (2005), Caos Calmo (2008), and Baciami Ancora (2010).
In describing his score, Buonvino says “the entire movie takes place in two different timelines. When Katie is a child, I approached the score in a more classical way of writing – you can hear that in the track ‘Father and Daughter’ used for the scene with the bicycle. For the adult scenes where she deals with the illness of her father I used a combination of electronic music, the orchestra and a solo violin. The solo violin plays some harmonics.” The resulting score, clearly, combines these stylistics: cues like the opening “Blackout”, “The Betrayal,” and “Goodnight Potato Chip” adopt the more contemporary style, and bring a serious, adult dimension to the story, with Buonvino’s violin lines and synth tones capturing the fractured relationship between parent and child. Similarly, cues like “Jake’s Seizure” and “Another Seizure” are quite anguished, consisting mainly of isolated piano chords atop a bed of string drones.
I personally prefer the more traditionally classical pieces, which are especially lovely. “Father and Daughter” is utterly delightful, sprightly and pretty, full of charm and innocence, and with a distinctly sunny European sound that is hard to describe, but you know it when you hear it. Subsequent cues like “I Want To Stay With You,” “Dad is Back,” and “That’s My Girl” continue in this carefree style –“I Want To Stay With You” even has a hint of James Horner in the piano lines, perhaps a holdover from the temp score – while others like “Something Changing,” the haunting “From Night to Dawn,” and “Goodbye Dad” mirror the orchestrations, but take the melodies on a distinctly downbeat journey, with more sadness and emotional pathos.
Lakeshore’s album is rounded out by two songs; Michael Bolton sings the title track, “Fathers & Daughters,” based on the main theme, and he duets with French pianist and singer Richard Clayderman on a cover version of The Carpenters’ “Close to You”. It’s all quite lovely in every respect, and will appeal to fans of upbeat, optimistic Euro-drama scores, but some may consider it a little lightweight, and lacking in dramatic heft.
Track Listing: 1. Fathers & Daughters (performed by Michael Bolton) (3:39), 2. (They Long To Be) Close To You (performed by Richard Clayderman feat. Michael Bolton) (3:35), 3. Blackout (2:30), 4. Father and Daughter (5:10), 5. I Want To Stay With You (1:27), 6. Something Changing (1:49), 7. Father and Daughter [Version 2] (3:03), 8. At School (1:48), 9. Jake’s Seizure (1:25), 10. The Betrayal (6:08), 11. Never Give Up (1:20), 12. Another Seizure (2:13), 13. From Night to Dawn (3:02), 14. Dad is Back (1:18), 15. Goodnight Potato Chip (2:44), 16. Nowhere (2:50), 17. Goodbye Dad (2:43), 18. Writing as a Maniac (0:46), 19. Losing It (0:49), 20. Father and Daughter [Soft Version] (3:01), 21. That’s My Girl (1:17), 22. I Want To Stay With You [Version 2] (1:27), 23. The Betrayal [Version 2] (2:42), 24. Old Memories (2:54), 25. Never Give Up [Version 2] (1:58). Lakeshore Records, 61 minutes 28 seconds.
HUMAN – Armand Amar
Human is a feature-length documentary from France directed by photojournalist-turned-filmmaker Yann Arthus-Bertrand. It’s a film that’s difficult to summarize – online sources call it ‘a collection of stories about and images of our world, offering an immersion to the core of what it means to be human’ – but it presents numerous interviews with subjects, ranging from Afghan refugees to American death-row inmates, interspersed with lush aerial landscape footage showing the beauty and immensity of the planet.
The music for Human is by Israeli-born French composer Armand Amar, whose music for documentaries such as Le Premier Cri (2007) and Home (2009) has been similarly well-received. This is the second of Amar’s outstanding 2015 scores, after Belle et Sébastien: L’Aventure Continue, but this is his standout work: a masterpiece of fusion, blending the lush orchestral sound of the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra with a dozen or more world music artists, each lending their unique musical talents to the score. As the film flits around the globe from one country to the next, so too does Amar’s music, giving it something of a travelogue feeling. In doing this, Amar loses something in terms of overall structure – almost none of the cues carry over thematic ideas – which may prove to be a turn-off for listeners who prefer more musical architecture in their writing, but what it loses in that aspect, it gains in the wide variety of musical styles on display, which range from the alien-sounding tribal music of the Mongolian steppes, to world-beat African rhythms, sacred Islamic Qawwali vocals, and much more besides.
Each cue has the orchestra as its tonal base, but where the music goes from that point is a constant surprise, making the entire album a voyage of discovery. The collision of vastly different ethnic musical influences is sometimes brilliant, sometimes jarring, but always full of sheer bravado, while the emotions range from sadness and introspection (“Faces,” with the haunting voice of Iranian singer Salar Aghlili) to wildly upbeat and celebratory (the vibrant and vital “Crowds,” which showcase the intense, guttural vocals of Mongolian musician Gombodorj Byambajargal).
Several cues stand out for their audacity and brilliance. “Castells” presents a truly gorgeous piano melody of great tenderness and beauty. The vocal range of Pakistani Qawwali vocalist Asif Ali Khan in “Nepal” will appeal to those who were mesmerized by James Horner’s score for The Four Feathers. Cellist Grégoire Korniluk lends his deep, sonorous tones to several cues, including the haunting “Paddy Fields,” “Pepe Mujica,” and “Human I”. “The Storm” ebbs and flows like waves on the sea, emerging with a sense of immense calm from a rhapsodic central piano element. “Shakuhachi,” as one might expect, showcases the eerie, breathy tones of the Japanese bamboo flute that James Horner used in so many of his scored, performed by Suizan Lagrost, one of the few non-Japanese musicians to master the instrument. The moving, emotionally-charged “The Hidden Church” features a sighing, lamenting orchestral performance, accompanying a charged performance by internationally-renowned Senegalese recording artist Youssou N’Dour; this is followed by its exact opposite in “Childhood”, a gentle lullaby for harps and the breathy, soothing vocals of Swedish singer Isabel Sörling. The beautiful “Jerusalem” features the mesmerizing vocals of Ljubojevic Divna, a Serbian singer who specializes in Orthodox Christian sacred music.
And then there are the ‘collisions’, where Amar intentionally mashes together musicians and vocalists from vastly different arenas in the same cue, creating a true world music fusion that further hammers home the film’s central message: that humanity is one big melting pot, and that despite our colors and languages and religions, we are all one. For example the opening cue, “Mongolia,” which forces Gombodorj Byambajargal’s wailing tones up against the evocative solos of French violin virtuoso Sarah Nemtanu. Later, in “Ploughing,” jazz trumpeter Ibrahim Maalouf duets with Yemeni vocalist Ravid Kahalani, creating an unusual sense of east-meets-west, while in the dramatic “Toil” Korniluk’s cello plays off ululating vocals of Sara-Marielle Gaup, whose music originates in the Sámi culture of Lappland in the far north of Scandinavia.
Human is a truly remarkable accomplishment by Amar – not only conceptually, in the way he translates the core of the film’s ideology through music, but in terms of sheer logistics, and how he blends so many disparate musical ideas and influences into a cohesive whole, with the orchestra as its spine. Looking at the list of soloists and vocalists, this score could have very easily been a complete mess, but the fact that it is as listenable and coherent as it is makes it one of the triumphs of the year, and easily one of the best documentary scores in recent memory.
Track Listing: 1. Mongolia [featuring Gombodorj Byambajargal, Henri Tournier and Sarah Nemtanu] (3:44), 2. Faces [featuring Salar Aghili] (4:12), 3. Dam in China [featuring The Children’s Choir of the Maîtrise des Hauts-de-Seine] (3:43), 4. Castells [featuring Julien Carton] (2:45), 5. Nepal [featuring Asif Ali Khan] (2:45), 6. Paddy Fields [featuring Grégoire Korniluk] (3:41), 7. The Storm [featuring Sara-Marielle Gaup and Isabel Sörling] (3:58), 8. Shakuhachi [featuring Suizan Lagrost] (3:58), 9. Ploughing [featuring Ravid Kahalani and Ibrahim Maalouf] (3:06), 10. Toil [featuring Sara-Marielle Gaup and Grégoire Korniluk] (3:33), 11. Immigration [featuring Gülay Hacer Toruk] (4:17), 12. Haiti (2:25), 13. Pepe Mujica (3:46), 14. The Hidden Church [featuring Youssou N’Dour] (2:06), 15. Childhood [featuring Isabel Sörling] (2:16), 16. Human Life (1:57), 17. Blue Lagoon [featuring Vahid Taj] (1:02), 18. Forgiveness [featuring Sarah Nemtanu] (2:03), 19. Swimming in China [featuring Henri Tournier and Marc-Antoine Perrio] (2:52), 20. Crowds [featuring Gombodorj Byambajargal] (3:01), 21. Human I [featuring Grégoire Korniluk] (5:03), 22. Jerusalem [featuring Ljubojevic Divna] (2:56), 23. Human II [featuring Julien Carton] (5:10), 24. Ghada’s Dream [featuring Ghada Shbeir] (3:07). Erato Records, 75 minutes 38 seconds.
LA GLACE ET LE CIEL – Cyrille Aufort
La Glace et le Ciel (Ice and the Sky) is a French documentary feature directed by Luc Jacquet about the work of Claude Lorius, who began studying Antarctic ice in 1957, and, in 1965, was the first scientist to be concerned about global warming. This is an important and prescient film, considering the increasingly precarious state of the world’s natural resources today, which blends archival footage with spectacularly filmed and staged shots of the now 83-year-old Lorius, as he witnesses the havoc caused by the climate change he saw coming some 30 years ago. It also marks the return to the southern hemisphere of director Jacquet, who captured the hearts of millions in 2005 with his film March of the Penguins.
The score for La Glace et le Ciel is by 42-year-old French composer Cyrille Aufort, who is likely to be an unfamiliar name to many, but who has worked on a number of popular and successful European films over the years, including Hell, Ombline, L’Âge de Raison, and A Royal Affair. In scoring La Glace et le Ciel, Aufort treats his subject matter with the importance and reverence it deserves, but also allows his music to reach tremendously beautiful heights of thematic grandeur – he was clearly inspired by the majestic cinematography and lanscapes of Antarctica the movie contains. His opening cue, “Il Était Une Fois Un Jardin,” tells you all you need to know about the score, mixing a large orchestra that emphasizes string writing with a subtle synth choir, solo piano, expressive woodwind textures, and a mass of light, tinkling, metallic percussion, which is clearly intended to provide a musical voice to the concept of melting ice.
Aufort did not approach La Glace et le Ciel as a themes-and-variations type of score, and instead scores each sequence in the film as a musical vignette, with its own identity, although the tone and orchestrations remain generally the same throughout. Highlight cues for me include “Premier Départ,” with its propulsive string ostinatos conveying a sense of optimism at the beginning of a journey; “L’Année Géophysique Internationale,” a thrusting and surprisingly menacing piece for more banks of strings that explodes into rousing choral beauty during its second half; and the gorgeous “Arrivée en Antarctique,” with its mesmerizing violin solo
Elsewhere, I am very fond of the deeply emotional and romantic “Les Cristaux,” which has an especially poignant piano line; the sublime “Adieu Charcot,” which introduces a solo female vocalist; the effortlessly graceful and elegant “Forage Dôme C,” which turns much more dramatic and bombastic in its second half; the serious and strident “Vostok,” which has an appropriately Slavic streak running through it, especially when the choir kicks in; the vivacious “Forage Vostok,” a bravado orchestra-and-choral action cue with a crystalline celesta solo as part of its instrumental makeup; and the wonderfully melancholy and reflective “Souvenirs,” which leads into the achingly beautiful finale, “Thème de la Classe et le Ciel”.
In a year which has contained some really superb writing for documentaries, La Glace et le Ciel stands as one of the year’s absolute best, and earmarks – for me at least – Cyrille Aufort as a composer whose work I will make an effort to seek out going forward. Fans of BBC Nature scores, especially the classically-oriented ones by people like George Fenton, will find a great deal of this to their liking. It is available for purchase via the French label Cristal Records, and on iTunes.
Track Listing: 1. Il Était Une Fois Un Jardin (4:26), 2. Premier Départ (2:36), 3. L’Année Géophysique Internationale (1:54), 4. Arrivée en Antarctique (1:48), 5. Au Revoir et à Dans 1 An (2:34), 6. Il Faut Survivre (2:36), 7. Les Cristaux (3:04), 8. Adieu Charcot (2:24), 9. Victoria Land (1:50), 10. Le Thermomètre Isotopique (1:53), 11. Eurêka (2:36), 12. Cicatrices Sanglantes (1:52), 13. Des Résultats Prometteurs (1:48), 14. Forage Dôme C (2:39), 15. Vostok (2:43), 16. Forage Vostok (3:10), 17. Nous Modifions le Climat (3:23), 18. Souvenirs (2:33), 19. ITV (2:13), 20. Thème de la Classe et le Ciel (3:41). Cristal Records, 51 minutes 45 seconds.
TERRITORIYA – Tuomas Kantelinen
Territoriya (The Territory) is a Russian film directed by Aleksander Melnik, based on the novel by Oleg Kuvayev, starring Konstantin Lavronenko and Grigoriy Dobrygin. It is an adventure-drama set in the 1960s, which follows the lives of a group of geologists trying to make a living prospecting for gold in the extreme north of Siberia, coping with the isolation, desperate temperatures, and harsh environment that part of the world ensures, while the rest of the Soviet Union endures a Cold War of its own. The film has been described as a Russian version of The Revenant – not in the sense that it is a film about revenge, but in the way the vast and rugged landscapes of Siberia almost become a character of their own, inspiring poetry and philosophy amongst the men and women who live there amongst the tundra.
The score for Territoriya is by Finnish composer Tuomas Kantelinen, who has made several abortive attempts to crack the North American film music scene via films like Mindhunters and The Legend of Hercules, but who always seems to do his best work when writing for more artfully-driven European films. Scores like Rukajärven Tie from 1999, Mother of Mine from 2005, and The Italian Key from 2011, really showcase Kantelinen’s magnificent, theme-driven, classically beautiful writing, and Territoriya joins that list.
The “Opening” is a stirring, expansive, but solemn theme for the full orchestra, capturing the scope and grandeur of Russia’s great unexplored northern lands, and several of the cues that follow also capture the feeling of wide open spaces, and the overwhelming physical presence of the mountains and the vast plains: the noble “Baklakov’s Long Trip,” the lyrical “Baklakov on the Mountain,” and the grandiose “Mother Russia”. Conversely, “Tundra” plays with gentle, almost ethnic-sounding woodwind textures and intimate violin figures, and somehow manages to be both cold and remote, and warm and inviting, all at the same time – not an easy musical balancing act to maintain.
The “Ice Waltz” is a playful piece, with piano and pizzicato strings adapting the main theme into a sound that mimics the dripping of water from the tips of icicles; “Tamara’s Theme” has a longing, lamenting quality in its solo violin writing, which carries on into the pretty “Little Love Scene”; the haunting piano/string melody in “Sergushova” has a distinctly Slavic sound, with that bittersweet and slightly depressing cadence that often occurs in melodies from that region, but which I adore; the two variations on the “Doubt Theme,” one for strings and one for flute, are beautifully downbeat and heartrending.
The three “Icy Inferno” cues increase the drama and suspense level significantly, with growling bass chords and low-end woodwind phrases adding to the sense of impending danger; the second and third “Icy Inferno” cues build to especially bold and impressive brass-led climaxes. The three ‘string variations’ of “At the River,” “Baklakov on the Mountain,” and “Mother Russia,” which conclude the score are just glorious, emotional powerhouses.
It’s so disappointing to me that Tuomas Kantelinen’s international profile has never really developed in the way I think it should – he is regarded as Finland’s premier film composer, and rightly so, but far too many people outside of European art-houses still don’t know his name, or recognize his talent. Unfortunately, the score for Territoriya is not available for commercial purchase at this time, and as such is unlikely to redress that balance; this promo was put together by Kantelinen for consideration by various awards bodies.
Track Listing: 1. Opening (1:51), 2. Baklakov’s Long Trip (1:24), 3. Tundra (3:20), 4. Baklakov Studies the Map (2:34), 5. Ice Waltz (0:42), 6. Tamara’s Theme (1:17), 7. Wilderness (1:49), 8. Doubt Theme [String Version] (0:54), 9. Letter Arrives (0:43), 10. Sergushova (2:13), 11. At the River (1:29), 12. Little Love Scene (1:16), 13. Baklakov on the Mountain (1:11), 14. Doubt Theme [Flute Version] (0:52), 15. Icy Inferno 1 (1:51), 16. Icy Inferno 2 (3:06), 17. Icy Inferno 3 (1:26), 18. Happy (0:59), 19. Mother Russia (1:54), 20. Territory (1:20), 21. At the River [String Version] (1:28), 22. Baklakov on the Mountain [String Version] (1:13), 23. Mother Russia [String Version] (1:48). Promo, 36 minutes 40 seconds.
ZIARNO PRAWDY – Abel Korzeniowski
Ziarno Prawdy (Grain of Truth) is a crime thriller from Poland, written by Zygmunt Miloszewski, and directed by Borys Lankosz. The film stars Robert Więckiewicz as Teodor, a big shot prosecutor from Warsaw who, after divorcing his wife, leaves the big city to start a new life in a picturesque town in south-east Poland. However, Teodor’s peace and quiet is shattered when he is called in to help investigate the murder of a young woman, found with her throat slit outside a former synagogue; before long, he discovers a web of unsolved murders going back decades, as well as a simmering hotbed of anti-Semitism in the underbelly of the seemingly idyllic community, which may or may not be the motive for the crimes.
The score for Ziarno Prawdy is by Los Angeles-based Polish composer Abel Korzeniowski, who has been the recipient of a great deal of acclaim for his scores for A Single Man, W.E., Romeo & Juliet, and the TV series Penny Dreadful, since he relocated to the United States in the late 2000s. With the exception of the animated film Copernicus Star in 2009, this is the first Polish feature film Korzeniowski has scored since 2003, and it’s nice to see him capitalizing on his international success at home. However, anyone who is used to Korzeniowski’s beautiful style of contemporary classicism will be surprised to discover that Ziarno Prawdy is a much more aggressive, modern-sounding score than we are used to hearing from him, one which blends much more prominent electronic, rhythmic and dissonant writing alongside a small traditional orchestra.
The main theme, “Grain of Truth,” is an unsettling collision of rattling bass flutes, pulsing oboe textures, and a bed of grating electronics that place the listener firmly on edge, and has more than a hint of Alexandre Despat’s The Ghost Writer in its rhythmic identity. The hooting woodwinds return in cues like “Perfect Kill,” “Not On the Wet,” “Breadcrumbs,” and “Rodło,” but for the most part, the electronic palette firmly takes center stage, with tracks like “Archives,” the aforementioned “Perfect Kill,” “Dybbuk,” and “Eye for an Eye,” having a pulsating, disconcerting quality.
The synths often combine with nervous, rattling metallic percussion, a distorted children’s choir, and often have a contemporary rock music vibe, especially when the drum kit kicks in – tracks like “Crows” are a perfect example of this style. “Tunnels” is the longest cue, at a touch over seven minutes, and is a hair-raising exercise in tension building, which develops by adding layer upon layer of harsh, guttural electronic textures over tapped hi-hat cymbals, brooding woodwind lines, and growling electric guitars. It’s not pretty, and it’s not pleasant, but it’s certainly effective.
Much of Ziarno Prawdy will likely confound listeners used to Korzeniowski’s lavish and beautiful orchestral writing, and while I don’t especially like them as pure music, I can certainly appreciate their effectiveness, and the fact that this is another weapon in Korzeniowski’s arsenal of musical styles. Unfortunately, the score for Ziarno Prawdy is not available for commercial purchase at this time; this promo was put together by Korzeniowski for consideration by various awards bodies.
Track Listing: 1. Grain of Truth (2:11), 2. Archives (2:34), 3. Perfect Kill (1:36), 4. Smokes (1:52), 5. Not On the Wet (2:48), 6. Dybbuk (2:04), 7. Breadcrumbs (1:44), 8. Rodło (1:32), 9. Pretending Game (1:40), 10. Crows (2:50), 11. Eye for an Eye (4:42), 12. Evil Comes from Gossip (2:57), 13. Tunnels (7:02), 14. Lullaby (3:27). Promo, 39 minutes 04 seconds.