Home > Reviews > CLIFFS OF FREEDOM – George Kallis

CLIFFS OF FREEDOM – George Kallis

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

The Romeo and Juliet story has been told over and over again in cinema; Cliffs of Freedom is the latest re-working of that classic tale of star-crossed lovers, but instead of Montagues and Capulets, we have Greeks and Turks facing off in a sweeping historical epic drama of love and conflict. The film is set in 1821 during the Greek War for Independence against the Ottoman Empire, and focuses on Anna Christina, a Greek peasant girl who is in love with Tariq, a colonel in the Turkish army whose career is on the rise even as he is unnerved by his country’s violent response to the Greek nationalistic uprising. As tensions mount and political divisions lead to all-out war, Anna Christina and Tariq struggle to keep their relationship alive. The film is directed by Van Ling, a special effects genius making his feature debut, and is based on a popular novel by Marianne Metropoulos; it stars Tania Raymonde and Jan Uddin as the central pair, and has a surprisingly rich supporting cast including Christopher Plummer, Patti LuPone, Billy Zane, Lance Henriksen, and Raza Jaffrey. Unfortunately the film came and went from cinemas like lightning (despite its trailer playing every night for what felt like weeks during the NBC late night news broadcast in Los Angeles), meaning that the film’s lasting legacy might be its score, by George Kallis.

45-year-old Cyprus-born composer George Kallis has been working on feature films for well over a decade, but really exploded into public consciousness in 2017 off the back of three outstanding scores: The Black Prince, Albion: The Enchanted Stallion, and The Last Warrior. This work won him the IFMCA Breakthrough Composer of the Year Award from the International Film Music Critics Association, and put many people on high alert, eagerly awaiting his next score. Cliffs of Freedom is that next score, and it’s just as good, if not better, than those previous works. It’s a large-scale, fully orchestral, sweeping drama and action score which makes use of no less than five interlocking themes that weave in and out of the work. Tonally the score is very much rooted in the ‘Hollywood historical epic’ sound, but also makes use of a number of regional specialty instruments including lute, bouzouki, oud, lyre, a number of ethnic woodwinds, and various plaintive vocals, which give the whole thing a rich, exotic feel.

The opening cue, “Fabric of History,” introduces two of the main themes, which Kallis calls the Freedom theme and the Destiny theme. The Freedom theme is a warm, hopeful, noble melody that carries through the score as an aspirational anthem for the Greeks, and is first heard in the cue’s opening seconds, while the more wistful Destiny theme is often heard for duetting strings and vocals backed by harp and a lilting, tinkling piano; listen for its initial prominent statement at 1:35. These two themes mostly disappear for the rest of the first half of the score, only re-emerging after Anna Christina decides to join the Greek rebellion against the Turks, and her influence on the outcome of the conflict increases – the epic statements of the Freedom theme in “Becoming a Legend” and especially “Freedom or Death” are significantly noteworthy, as the original intimacy of the melody is replaced by soaring, powerful statements for the full orchestra and choir.

Instead, the first half of the score is dominated mostly by the Family theme, which represents Anna Christina’s relationship with her home and especially her grandmother Yia Yia (Patti LuPone), and the love theme for Anna Christina and Tariq. The Family theme is lilting, soft, and inviting, and is often carried by gentle woodwinds backed by strings and harp. Cues like “Valtetsi Village,” the subsequent “Tell Me What You See, Yia Yia,” and the opening moments of “Anna Christina’s Prayer” contain especially lovely performances of the theme, which allow the listener to understand how Anna Christina’s deep love of her roots informs her decision to eventually rise up and defend it from the invaders.

Meanwhile, the love theme is introduced at 1:43 into “Can You Forgive,” a quietly intense and passionate piece that moves seamlessly between strings and woodwinds, piano and harp, creating appealing harmonies and gorgeous moments of quiet tonal beauty, capturing the essence of their forbidden relationship. Subsequent performances of the love theme in “Sunset Encounter” and “Are We Really So Different” are especially beautiful, while the culmination of the theme three minutes into “Cenotaph” may be the emotional high point of the entire score; it builds from a hummed chorus full of regret and introspection, eventually emerging into a striking piece of string-led beauty.

The final recurring theme is what Kallis calls the Sorcerer’s theme, and this relates to a different aspect of Anna Christina’s personality, after she starts to become a real leader of the Greek resistance. As her influence and reputation spreads, the Turks start to believe that she is some sort of ‘witch’ or ‘sorcerer,’ which leads to the Turkish commanders putting a bounty on her head. The Sorcerer theme first appears as an emotive lament thirty seconds into the moving “Anna Christina’s Prayer,” and then goes on to form a major thematic presence in the score’s finale – more on that later.

Several additional cues highlight Kallis’s lovely orchestral and choral textures. “Children at the Door” uses the full choir to convey a sense of tragedy and loss. “Not That Girl Any More” does the same thing with a solo cello, before eventually segueing into a determined-sounding statement of the Freedom theme for horns. Ayana Haviv’s vocals give “Fog of War” a desperate, haunted quality that is quite mesmerizing. The cello and piano duet in “The Time Has Come” is sublime.

And then there is the action music, which is exciting and vivid and plentiful. Cues such as “Ottoman Patrol,” parts of “Joining the Rebellion,” “Becoming a Legend,” and parts of “It’s Not Your Fault” are rhythmic and exotic, with swirling strings, hammered percussion, and more than a touch of a spicy bazaar about them. Later, cues such as “Return to Tripolitsa,” “Caravan,” and “General Kolokotronis,” have a more pronounced brass quotient, and build up quite a head of steam, often adopting an aggressive and war-like attitude that conveys the film’s increasing militaristic tensions. The explosions of thrusting strings half way through in “Return to Tripolitsa” are notably fantastic. Cleverly, throughout these cues, Kallis also drops in frequent thematic statements, maintaining dramatic consistency even when the orchestra is seemingly doing its own thing.

The score’s big finale comprises the cues “Battle Preparations,” “Battle of Valtetsi,” “Let the Blade Find the Cut,” and “Simply the Truth,” and between them may contain both the most intense and most stirringly beautiful music of Kallis’s career to date. “Battle Preparations” is tense and anticipatory, using low horns, militaristic snare drum riffs, moody ethnic woodwinds, and inter-weaving thematic fragments to create a nervous prelude to the inevitable conflict; once it erupts with propulsive energy, it never lets up. “Battle of Valtetsi” and “Let the Blade Find the Cut” are massive action sequences, making use of the full orchestra, the full choir, and frequent statements of the Destiny theme, the Freedom theme, and the Sorcerer theme. There is a touch of Hans Zimmer’s massive battle music from Gladiator in the way its set up, being full of flashy brass triplets, relentless string ostinatos, and throbbing percussion. Listen especially for the tremendous brass writing 1:41 into “Battle of Valtetsi,” the dark cello statement of the Sorcerer theme 1:19 into “Let the Blade Find the Cut” when the Turks come face to face with the ‘witch’ they have grown to fear, the throaty trombone writing at 2:50 later in the same cue, and the brilliant moment at the very end of the track when Destiny and Freedom combine as Kallis blends the tinkling pianos from one theme with the melody of the other. Everything concludes with “Simply the Truth,” which offers stunning final statements of the Destiny theme, the Freedom theme, and the Sorcerer’s theme, performed by the full orchestra. It’s simply wonderful.

The album is rounded off with a song, “I’ll Wait for You,” written by Kallis with lyrics by book author Marianne Metropoulos, and performed by Ariana George. Kallis is no stranger to songwriting – he wrote the Cypriot song “Tha’nai Erotas” for the 1999 Eurovision Song Contest, after all – and while the music is lovely (it’s based on the melody of the Freedom theme, which makes for a nice change in an era where movie songs often have no relationship with the corresponding score), the arrangements are lush, and Ariana George has a lovely voice, the lyrics are unfortunately very trite and corny, which makes it difficult to take it seriously.

This one tiny misstep aside, Cliffs of Freedom is otherwise a truly outstanding piece of music. The orchestral forces are bold and impressive, the ethnic instruments and vocal stylings are appropriate and give the score more than a dash of local color, and the thematic density of the score is tremendously impressive. Best of all, for me, is the fact that Kallis has been unashamedly emotional in his musical depiction of this story. You just don’t get scores like this very often these days – big, wonderfully melodramatic historical epics which juxtapose passionate love against a backdrop of war and political turmoil. It’s a cinematic canvas ripe for this type of musical exploration, and I’m so happy that someone, somewhere, is still writing it. If you enjoyed Kallis’s work on any of his three 2017 scores, or even going back to things like Gagarin: First in Space and his Highlander sequel, you will find Cliffs of Freedom fits the bill too.

Buy the Cliffs of Freedom soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Fabric of History (3:27)
  • Ottoman Patrol (2:00)
  • Valtetsi Village (1:54)
  • Can You Forgive (3:17)
  • Tell Me What You See, Yia Yia (2:46)
  • Return to Tripolitsa (1:51)
  • Sunset Encounter (1:15)
  • Are We Really so Different (1:49)
  • You Know Nothing of My Mother (2:02)
  • Children at the Door (2:54)
  • Anna Christina’s Prayer (1:51)
  • Not That Girl Any More (1:51)
  • Joining the Rebellion (2:29)
  • Caravan (1:49)
  • Fog of War (2:00)
  • Reason to Call Upon Him (2:28)
  • Becoming a Legend (3:01)
  • And by My Hand (1:57)
  • It’s Not Your Fault (1:38)
  • The Time Has Come (2:26)
  • Cenotaph (4:20)
  • General Kolokotronis (2:16)
  • Freedom or Death (1:43)
  • To Save You from Yourself (1:04)
  • Battle Preparations (2:31)
  • Battle of Valtetsi (2:30)
  • Let the Blade Find the Cut (5:43)
  • Simply the Truth (5:19)
  • I’ll Wait for You (written by George Kallis and Marianne Metropoulos, performed by Ariana George) (4:16)

Running Time: 74 minutes 27 seconds

Aegean Entertainment (2019)

Music composed and conducted by George Kallis. Orchestrations by Kostas Christides, Michael Eastwood, Kevin Smithers, Nikiforos Chrysoloras, George Karpasitis, Andres Fenella and Jacob Boyd. Additional music by Costas Cacoyiannis. Featured musical soloists William Arnold, Pavlos Hoplaros, Giorgos Stylianou, Theodoulos Vakanas, Lilo Fadidas, Dimitris Menexopoulos and Spyros Koliavasilis. Special vocal performances by Eliza Gerontakis, Apostalos Papapostolou, Ayana Haviv and Demetris Fanis. Recorded and mixed by Gabor Buczko and Andreas Trachonitis. Album produced by George Kallis and Mikael Carlsson.

  1. March 22, 2019 at 1:10 pm

    Great review! I must admit, the movie preview didn’t do much for me…but historical dramas aren’t really my thing. But reading this review makes me want to check out the movie when it’s available on-demand and I’m very curious about the music now too. Anything that reminds you of Zimmer’s Gladiator has to be awesome!

  2. Kjell Neckebroeck
    March 26, 2019 at 9:58 am

    It’s an unfortunate fact of life that a day lasts only twenty-four hours, and that means that we don’t get round to listening to nearly as many new scores as we would want to. Fortunately, Jonathan, you make life easier for all of us: you provide a consistently reliable guide through little-known scores, telling us where to find themes and what to look out for. Your efforts make it a lot easier for me to get my bearings throughout the 75-minute album to this wonderful George Kallis score. Your expert analysis is well-written and to the point, so as usual, I am looking forward to your next review. Thanks a lot!

  1. May 5, 2019 at 11:11 am

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