Home > Reviews > Under-the-Radar Round Up 2020, Part III

Under-the-Radar Round Up 2020, Part III

As the COVID-19 Coronavirus is continuing still to decimate the 2020 theatrical movie schedule, as well as the general mood of the world, good music is more important than ever when it comes to getting is all through these difficult times. As such (and as I did last year under much different circumstances) I am very pleased to present the latest installment in my ongoing series of articles looking at the best “under the radar” scores from around the world – this time concentrating on the third quarter of 2020! The titles include a fantasy sequel and a historical drama/thriller from Germany, a super hero-themed serial killer thriller from Spain, a thriller from Vietnam, an emotional documentary from Turkey, and so much more!


CHI CHI EM EM – Jerome Leroy

Chi Chi Em Em – known as Sister Sister elsewhere in the world – is a Vietnamese thriller directed by Kathy Uyen. The film stars Thanh Hang as Kim, a late night radio talk show host who offers a room in her opulent home to a runaway teen. However, what Kim doesn’t bargain for is that the eighteen year old girl has ulterior motives which force Kim to face the darkest secrets from her past. The film was something of a hit in Vietnamese cinemas when it was first released right at the end of 2019, and only now is the film beginning to be released internationally. The score for the film is by Los Angeles-based French composer Jerome Leroy, who first came to the attention of the film music world in 2014 working with William Ross on the holiday-themed drama One Christmas Eve, and has since scored many features, documentaries, and shorts, including several for the South-East Asian market.

Leroy’s score is very much rooted in the classical sound of orchestral thrillers, combining electronic elements with a variety of synthetic textures, and a small set of recurring thematic ideas that set the mood and attach themselves to specific characters. This mood is set in the opening “Overture and Opening Titles,” which is bold and classical, but also small and intimate, featuring a lovely, quiet piano solo backed by strings. Much of the opening part of the score is quietly eerie, with extended textures for strings, piano, and bowed textures such as the sound of a violin bow sliding a across a dulcimer’s strings, or the surface of a cymbal or a drum. Cues like “Kim Meets Nhi” offer a more urgent, intense sound, while extended cues like “Hair in the Shower” and the superb “Kim Was Framed” build an atmosphere of unsettling dread in a manner that is stylish and compelling, while also offering strong statements of the score’s main themes.

Elsewhere in the score, Leroy allows cues like “One Happy Family” “Baby Ultrasound” have a sweet, intimate sound reminiscent of Thomas Newman, while “Triangular Desires” brings multiple themes together in counterpoint, and “Barbershop Advice” features a gorgeously lyrical duet for violin and cello, foreshadowing the nature of the twist to come. Things change in “The Plan Unfolds,” the ‘centerpiece,’ a montage sequence in which the storyline drastically shifts focus, and characters are revealed not to be what they seemed. To capture this twist, Leroy and director Uyen decided to use an existing piece of baroque music, and so Leroy adapted Vivaldi’s Concerto #74 in E minor for Violin, Strings and Harpsichord, which is notable for its showstopping violin part, performed brilliantly here by Caroline Campbell.

The score past this moment is much more classical in nature, but also much more ominous and serious, with cues like “Out of Time,” the dark “Unplanned Ending,” and rich “I Wanted Your Life” offering moody, atmospheric orchestral textures that are very well-crafted. Also worth noting is “Not a Family Man” which features an orchestral adaption of another Vivaldi piece, ‘Filiae Maestae Jerusalem (Largo)’. Overall, Chi Chi Em Em is a great score from a composer worth investigating. The score is available as a digital download from his own website at https://www.jeromeleroy.com/chi-chi-em-em, and from most good online retailers.

Track Listing: 1. Overture & Opening Titles (1:35), 2. On-Air Therapy (1:33), 3. Em Gai’s Call (1:30), 4. Drive Home (0:52), 5. Kim Meets Nhi (4:55), 6. Unwelcomed Guest (2:59), 7. One Happy Family (1:14), 8. Triangular Desires (1:39), 9. Baby Ultrasound (1:08), 10. Hair in the Shower (5:03), 11. Marital Disagreement (2:54), 12. Kim Was Framed (5:11), 13. Lost Baby (3:56), 14. Mom Is so Sorry (2:32), 15. Nhi Is Pregnant (2:11), 16. Barbershop Advice (1:35), 17. The Plan Unfolds (5:52), 18. Out of Time (2:06), 19. Unplanned Ending (3:31), 20. Not a Family Man (1:49), 21. Poolside Digging (1:22), 22. Kill the Monster (3:10), 23. I Wanted Your Life (1:45), 24. Epilogue (1:18). Jerome Leroy Music, 61 minutes 38 seconds.



Effigy: Poison and the City (Effigie: Das Gift und die Stadt in its native language) is a German period drama-thriller directed by Udo Flohr. Based on a true story, as well as a subsequent stage play by Peer Meter, the film tells the story of Gesche Gottfried (Suzan Anbeh), one of the world’s first known female serial killers. Gottfried murdered 15 people in mid-19th century Bremen by poisoning them with arsenic. However, the Poisoner of Bremen meets her match in the shape of Cato Böhmer (Elisa Thiemann), a pioneering female investigator who determines to catch the murderer before she kills again.

The score for Effigy: Poison and the City is by the great Nic Raine, who many will know from his work as an orchestrator to John Barry, and for his dozens and dozens of outstanding re-recordings conducting the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra. We don’t often get to hear Raine’s own musical voice, which is a shame because it’s usually outstanding – his score for the drama Wir Wollten Aufs Meer was one of my favorite scores of 2012, and his score for Die Spionin in 2013 was similarly well-received. Considering the period setting of the film, Raine’s score for Effigy is orchestral, romantic, and highly melodic, focusing especially on a large string section. It’s also quite stunningly beautiful.

The score built around several recurring main themes, beginning with the “Effigy Waltz,” which is lush and classical, albeit with a slightly despondent undertone, but is just sublime in its construction and in its depiction of an opulent gilded age. Subsequent cues such as the “Opening Titles,” “Cato and Gesche Meet,” and “Gesche’s Arrest” return to the waltz theme with equal excellence, cleverly insinuating that the cat-and-mouse relationship between these two brilliant but very different women is like a dance.

The “Main Theme” can be read as a personal theme for the detective Cato Böhmer, and continues with similar orchestrations, dark and sumptuous, with layer upon layer of strings moving and shifting against each other. Some of Raine’s writing here reminds me very much of Debbie Wiseman at her most luxurious, or perhaps of Wojciech Kilar at his most romantic; simple repeated phrases arranged with a velvet-like magnificence that just washes over you. Subsequent cues like “The Paralegal,” “Implying What,” “Blood Rain,” and the magnificent “Finale and Epilogue,” which feature the theme prominently, are just brilliant, and so beautiful.

The final recurring idea relates to Gesche Gottfried, the killer herself, and comprises a set of nervous and agitated strings, which occasionally erupt into moments of dramatic thematic consonance, including references to the main theme, and to an undulating 8-note motif that gradually emerges as Gottfried’s musical calling card. Cues such as “The Poisoning,” “The Poison’s Spell,” and “Poisoned Applesauce” are especially prominent in this regard, and allow the Gottfried character to build a sense of real menace. Other cues of note include the urgent, throbbing pair “Testing for Arsenic” and “Examination Room,” as well as the beautiful end title song “You’re My Effigy,” which is based on the main theme, and is performed by Raine’s wife Jana Raine with a diva-like operatic precision and a spellbinding tone.

Effigy: Poison and the City is a truly stunning score, effortlessly beautiful, which will appeal to anyone whose tastes extend into rich, lush, slightly melancholy string-based drama and romance. In another life Nic Raine could have been one of cinema’s great romantic melody writers, but as things stand we just have to be grateful for the things we have from him. The score is available for purchase from Moviescore Media.

Track Listing: 1. Effigy Waltz (2:34), 2. Main Theme (2:36), 3. Testing for Arsenic (1:38), 4. Opening Titles (1:34), 5. The Poisoning (1:48), 6. Cato and Gesche Meet (1:34), 7. The Poison’s Spell (1:52), 8. The Paralegal (1:43), 9. Poisoned Applesauce (1:56), 10. Implying What? (1:59), 11. Witnesses’ Statements (1:57), 12. Examination Room (1:26), 13. Gesche’s Arrest (2:46), 14. You Are Lost (1:24), 15. Blood Rain (1:29), 16. You Had Luck (2:27), 17. How Was That? (4:53), 18. Finale and Epilogue (4:49), 19. You’re My Effigy (written by Nic Raine and Jana Raine, performed by Jana Raine) (3:30). Moviescore Media, 44 minutes 04 seconds.


IL GRANDE PASSO – Pino Donaggio

Il Grande Passo, aka The Big Step, is an Italian comedy-drama written and directed by Antonio Padovan. The film stars Giuseppe Battiston as Dario Cavalieri, who has been obsessed with becoming an astronaut since watching Neil Armstrong walk on the moon. Now in his mid-50s, Dario has spent his life as something of a misunderstood genius, a brilliant aerospace engineer whose disagreeable personality and penchant for rule breaking has isolated him from his family, notably his more serious and down-to-earth brother Mario. When Dario’s latest attempt to launch him to the moon – on a rocket of his own design – results in him being hospitalized, it forces the two brothers to see each other after years of estrangement… except, this time, their meeting changes the course of events of both their lives. The film stars Giuseppe Battiston and Stefano Fresi as the brothers, and has an original score by the great Pino Donaggio.

In the aftermath of his heyday, which ran from around 1973 to the last few years of the 1990s, Donaggio has remained active, writing one or two scores around Europe each year, usually to great critical acclaim. This is his outstanding score of 2020 and it’s anchored by one of the loveliest themes he has written in years, “La Luna,” a fragile and delicate homage to the mysterious allure of the moon; it begins with Donaggio using instruments at their most fragile, moving from piano to strings to harps and chimes, but then gradually emerges into dramatic, forthright theme for the full orchestra, augmented by rolling timpani cymbal clashes, which stands as some of the best action music Donaggio has written in years.

The main theme recurs frequently throughout the score, further reflecting on Dario’s romantic dreams of leaving Earth and exploring the cosmos; it receives especially lovely statements in “Con la Nebbia,” “20 Luglio 1969,” and the conclusive “Tutta la Mia Vita”. Unfortunately, there’s not much more of the action in Il Grande Passo too; cues like “L’Incidente” build on the stylistics heard towards the end of the opening cue, but that’s about it, and the rest focuses mostly on softer, more gentle music representing the brothers and their relationship.

Cues like “Verso Il Nord,” “Un Problemuccio,” and “Papà” are softer and more intimate, using gentle keyboard textures to illustrate the loneliness of both brothers, and their estrangement; this is extrapolated further in “L’Incontro dei Fratelli,” which makes use of some lovely woodwind writing. Other cues of note include the bluesy duets for electric violin and electric guitar in “Quattrotronchi,” “Uova Sode,” and “Svetlana,” among several others, which gives Dario especially a sort of sad-sack air of missed opportunities. There’s also an unusual, energetic theme for what sounds like a guitar and banjo in both “Verso Vercelli” and “Cavalieri” which gives the score a nervous edge.

The final two cues, “Tre Minuti (Tema di Mario)” and “Il Grande Passo (Tema di Dario)” are essentially concert arrangements of the main themes, and are wholly lovely, with the more fulsome arrangement of the themes coming across especially well. Il Grande Passo passes by in a flash, half an hour of Pino Donaggio at his warmly intimate, emotional best. Some may find it a little bit too much of a slow burn for listeners who need more energy in their music, but I was entranced from start to finish.

Track Listing: 1. La Luna (4:08), 2. L’Incidente (0:59), 3. Padre e Figlio (0:23), 4. Verso Il Nord (1:01), 5. Quattrotronchi (0:49), 6. Uova Sode (1:28), 7. Svetlana (1:06), 8. Un Problemuccio (1:13), 9. L’Incontro dei Fratelli (1:35), 10. Un Pollo Non di Dario (0:46), 11. Con la Nebbia (1:43), 12. 20 Luglio 1969 (3:44), 13. Papà (1:13), 14. Qualcosa Insieme (1:20), 15. Luna Storta (1:27), 16. Verso Vercelli (1:03), 17. Cavalieri (1:15), 18. Frammenti (0:51), 19. Volevo Andare Sulla Luna (0:58), 20. Tutta la Mia Vita (4:07), 21. Tre Minuti (Tema di Mario) (2:20), 22. Il Grande Passo (Tema di Dario) (2:23). A La Bianca, 35 minutes 51 seconds.


JIM KNOPF UND DIE WILDE 13 – Ralf Wengenmayr

Jim Knopf und die Wilde 13 is the second film based on the classic series of German-language novels by Michael Ende, and is the sequel to the 2018 film Jim Knopf und Lukas der Lokomotivführer. The story picks up a year after the events of the first film, and life in Lummerland has returned to normal – until the pirate gang Die Wilde 13 find out that nefarious Ms. Malzahn has been defeated, and start to hatch a plan for revenge. Meanwhile, Princess Li Si of Mandala comes to visit Jim on his island, and Jim confides in her with his greatest secret – that he finally wants to know the truth about his origins. In order to solve the mystery, and protect Lummerland from the threat of the Wilde 13, Jim, the Princess, and Lukas the Engine Driver set out on another dangerous adventure. The film stars Solomon Gordon, Henning Baum, and Leighanne Esperenzante, who each return to the roles of Jim, Lukas the Engine Driver, and Princess Li Si; the film is directed by Dennis Gansel, and has an original score by Ralf Wengenmayr, who also scored the first Jim Knopf film, with additional music by Marvin Miller.

As was the case with the first film, the score for Jim Knopf und die Wilde 13 is a sweeping, adventurous delight, and is outstanding from start to finish. The score is again built around its theme song, the Lummerlandlied, which was originally written by Hermann Amann for the massively popular original 1960s marionette-puppet version of the story, and is immediately recognizable by most German speaking children. There are especially notable renditions in the beautiful title track, “Jim Knopf und die Wilde 13,” later in “Zwölf Türen,” in “Jamballa,” and in the conclusive “Luuum-Meeer-Land”.

The rest of the score is packed with superb sequences of high fantasy and rich adventure, intimate themes that represent Jim’s relationship with his friends and his home, superb moments of bombastic action, and Chinese influences which specifically represent the character Princess Li Si and her home country of Mandala. There I’m especially fond of the magical choral opening “Die Wilde 13,” the lush oriental tones in “”Es Geht Wieder Los” and Aufbruch Nach Mandala,” the intense yet flighty drama of “Wie Hast Du Das Angestellt,” and the beautifully gentle “Perpetumobil” and “Frau Mahlzahns Prophezeiung” . Some of the music also has a definite flavor of John Williams and James Horner in the orchestration and some of the performance and writing techniques and flourishes; scores like Hook, Cocoon, the Witches of Eastwick, the soft parts of Star Trek II, the first two Harry Potter scores, and some of Williams’s writing for Steven Spielberg especially sprang to mind upon hearing cues such as “Sursulapitschi,” the rousing “Emma Fliegt,” “Gerösteter Wüstensand,” and the beautiful “Piratentaufe,” among several others.

The main new element in the music is the recurring theme for the Wilde 13 themselves, a gang of marauding pirates who threaten the safety of Lummerland and its people. Wengenmayr’s music for the 13 is a sort of sinister sea shanty, in which a menacing male voice choir sings ominously in German; cues like “Piraten (13 Kerle Auf Dem Totensarg)” feature the motif strongly. This music also bleeds into some of the more daring moments of swashbuckling action, which reach their peak in cues like “Der Taifun Wird Uns In Stücke Reißen,” and “Zwölf Türen”. In these moments Wengenmayr is channeling the same ideas as Alfred Newman, Erich Korngold, and John Debney did at the height of their adventuresome powers.

The digital release of the score features two bonus two cues, “Jim Knopf und die Wilde 13 – Suite” and “Flight to Lummerland – Suite,” which offer a spectacular 20-minute recapitulation of all the score’s main thematic ideas, arranged and performed at their most orchestrally powerful and emotional, and which increases the running time to more than 90 minutes. Whichever version you manage to hear, Jim Knopf und die Wilde 13 comes with an unhesitating recommendation from me – like its predecessor, the score is one of the best and most rewarding adventure scores of the year.

Track Listing: 1. Die Wilde 13 (1:53), 2. Jim Knopf und die Wilde 13 (1:19), 3. Es Geht Wieder Los (3:01), 4. Sursulapitschi (0:42), 5. Uschaurischuum (1:58), 6. Gurumusch Magnetfels (5:47), 7. Wie Hast Du Das Angestellt? (1:53), 8. Perpetumobil (2:31), 9. Emma Fliegt (2:38), 10. Wiedersehen Mit Tur Tur (2:22), 11. Gerösteter Wüstensand (2:56), 12. Das Kristall der Ewigkeit (2:06), 13. Aufbruch Nach Mandala (1:38), 14. Frau Mahlzahns Prophezeiung (2:34), 15. Ein Blinder Passagier (2:47), 16. Piraten (13 Kerle Auf Dem Totensarg) (4:31), 17. Der Taifun Wird Uns In Stücke Reißen (1:14), 18. Sturmauge (5:17), 19. In Der Schatzkammer (5:22), 20. Piratentaufe (3:28), 21. Zwölf Türen (4:26), 22. Lukas, Wo Bist Du? (3:38) , 23. Jamballa (7;00), 24. Luuum-Meeer-Land (4:24), 25. Jim Knopf und die Wilde 13 – Suite (9:20) DIGITAL BONUS TRACK, 26. Flight to Lummerland – Suite (11:30) DIGITAL BONUS TRACK. Embassy Music, 96 minutes 39 seconds.

Special thanks to Lasse Vogt for his help with this release.



Orígenes Secretos – Unknown Origins in English – a Spanish thriller film directed by David Galán Galindo, written by Galindo and Fernando Navarro, based on Galindo’s novel of the same name. The film follows a pair of detectives on the case of a serial killer. Cosme (Antonio Resines) is a grizzled older cop, while his partner David (Javier Ray) is an up and coming detective looking to make a name for himself. The baffling circumstances of the murder are clarified by Cosme’s comic-book obsessed son Jorge (Brays Efe), who notes its similarity to the first appearance of the Incredible Hulk; before long, more victims are found, and the cops realize that their serial killer is inspired by superhero origin stories.

The score for Orígenes Secretos is by the superb Argentine composer Federico Jusid, taking a break from his endlessly magnificent Spanish TV period dramas and moving purposefully into the present day. As such, this is a much more-modern sounding score than many of his others, often blending subtle electronics into the orchestra, but it still retains that wonderful sense of classicism that runs through most of Jusid’s work. This is perfectly illustrated in the magnificent opening cue, “Overture/Hero’s Journey,” which presents a set of wonderfully dark and bold theme enlivened by Gothic chanting voices, stirring lyrical string lines, and outbursts of brass-led power.

Most of the rest of the score is built around the building blocks introduced in the overture, and some of the individual elements are quite excellent. The dark, malevolent presence of the killer is illustrated by brooding tracks like “The Incredible,” some of which use a Goldsmith-esque descending motif as a marker for the evil-doer at the center of the story.

Cues like “Se Te Olvida Que Yo Soy Tu Jefa?” and “Un Policía No Se Jubila Nunca” revisit the most lyrical and emotional theme that seems to represent the father-son relationship between Cosme and Jorge, often moving away from the original piano base and embracing a larger orchestral sweep. Elsewhere, cues like “Uncanny,” “Orígenes,” and the monumental “Fantasy” feature the return of the imposing chanting voices to excellent effect. Many of the score’s action and suspense tracks also increase the electronic/sound design quotient a little, and as such have a definite Hans Zimmer Dark Knight quality, but it’s all done with a great deal of panache and skill. Standalone action highlights include the terrific “Profesor Nóvaro” with its prominent wooden tonalities, the driving and rousing “Debes Venir Tú Solo,” and the earth-shaking “Duelo Final,” which can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with anything from the Marvel universe in terms of powerful heroism.

Orígenes Secretos is a terrific score, one of the best things we have heard from Federico Jusid in years. While he made have made his name scoring opulent costume dramas like Isabel, Hispania, Carlos Rey Emperador, La Corona Partida, and others, there is much more to him than that, and this score is a prime example of what he can do when he is let loose on other genres and given the latitude to be creative. The score is available as a digital download from most good online retailers.

Track Listing: 1. Overture/Hero’s Journey (5:32), 2. Estoy Orgulloso de la Persona en la Que Te Has Convertido (3:02), 3. The Incredible (1:57), 4. Uncanny (3:06), 5. Se Te Olvida Que Yo Soy Tu Jefa? (1:19), 6. Profesor Nóvaro (2:18), 7. Orígenes (1:38), 8. Solo una Sociedad Enferma Consideraría la Inocencia Como un Signo de Debilidad (2:02), 9. Un Policía No Se Jubila Nunca (2:03), 10. Debes Venir Tú Solo (0:49), 11. Fantasy (2:06), 12. Duelo Final (2:45), 13. Créditos (2:26), 14. Epílogo/Vértice (2:30). Termitas Records, 33 minutes 33 seconds.



Ron Hopper’s Misfortune is a Spanish-produced English-language fantasy suspense drama written and directed by Jaime Falero. The film stars Alyssa Lozovskaya as Sarah, a beautiful young girl who, as she grows up and struggles to deal with the complexities of her life, continually returns to an old abandoned mechanical workshop in the middle of nowhere to meet her friend. That unexpected confidant is Ron Hopper (played, unbelievably, by Vinnie Jones), a mysterious being who is somehow anchored to the place, and who guides Sarah with an enigmatic wisdom via multiple encounters. However, the real mystery concerns who Ron actually is and, as Sarah will soon discover, those who learn his secrets must pay the price. The story has been described as a modern revision of Charon’s myth – Charon being the ferryman of Hades who carries the souls of the newly deceased across the river Styx to the world of the dead – which provided a ton of inspiration for composer Iván Palomares.

Palomares impressed me a great deal with his score for En las Estrellas in 2018, and Ron Hopper’s Misfortune is equally impressive, albeit for different reasons. This is a score which is both beautiful and deathly, and creates a fantastic atmosphere through subtle instrumental manipulation in post-production, which gives the whole score a sort of surreal and otherworldly sheen. The score is mostly orchestral, written for a full string section, a features string quintet, guitars, and solo vocals. The opening cue, “Love and Tale,” is wonderfully vivid, featuring almost Herrmannesque strings, coupled with low brass and shrill woowinds creating an atmosphere of unease. As the cue develops Palomares brings in disquieting textures, almost subliminal voices, and then this merges directly into the second cue, “Hopper and Aldara,” which is just gorgeous, an elegant but despondent theme representing the Ron Hopper character, and his fate. This theme is one of the loveliest things I’ve heard this year; a shimmering, moving evocation of love and death that stayed with me for weeks after I first heard it.

This theme receives several lovely recapitulations, in “Death,” in the ethereal and dream-like “Ron Hopper’s Misfortune,” and “One Last Reunion”. These are counterbalanced by more dissonant, textural material in cues like “In the Garage,” “Sara’s Watch,” “Journey to the Dock,” and “Horsemen of the Apocalypse,” which clearly insinuate that there are dangers even in the midst of all this beauty. “Chase and Death” is a vivid, impressionistic action cue that reminds me of Elliot Goldenthal’s action writing in Alien 3, all skittery strings and low, guttural brass; also interesting to note here are the vocals, deep and soulful, which sound like medieval plainsong.

“The Story of Ron Hopper” has a sort of overwhelming masculine presence, wherein the brass writing seems to insinuate some sort of ancient power, encroaching into the modern world. “Murder, Slayer and Redemption” is disorienting in the extreme, taking all the elements present in the rest of the score and arranging them like some sort of jarring fever dream; clever, but difficult. The 5-minute End Credits piece is a real showstopper, reprising both the riveting string-based action material and the main theme at its most impressive – darkly romantic, brooding, and just superb.

Ron Hopper’s Misfortune reminds me very much of 1990s Christopher Young, especially scores like Jennifer 8, Copycat, and others of that group, and anyone who has an affinity for that sort of beautiful melancholy will find this score very much to their liking. It also reaffirms to me just what a great young composer Iván Palomares is, and how much he deserved his IFMCA Breakthrough Film Composer of the Year nomination in 2018. Yet another terrific Spaniard to add to the list.

Track Listing: 1. Love and Tale (4:01), 2. Hopper and Aldara (2:25), 3. In the Garage (1:58), 4. Chase and Death (2:08), 5. The Story of Ron Hopper (2:36), 6. Death (1:27), 7. Sara’s Watch (3:15), 8. Ron Hopper’s Misfortune (2:47), 9. Post Mortem (1:55), 10. Murder, Slayer and Redemption (3:57), 11. Journey to the Dock (5:05), 12. Horsemen of the Apocalypse (3:38), 13. One Last Reunion (4:09), 14. Prison and New Life (3:25), 15. End Credits (4:52), 16. Merry-Go-Round (1:00). Moviescore Media, 48 minutes 38 seconds.


SADAN HANIM – George Kallis

Sadan Hanım is a Turkish documentary feature directed by Göksel Gülensoy, which takes an unflinching look at Alzheimer’s disease, and the terrible effects it has on the human mind. Shot over the course of four years, with the collaboration of the Turkish Alzheimer Association, the film examines the life and eventual death of Sadan Ünüvar – Sadan Hanım, or Mrs. Sadan – the director’s mother-in-law, who had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s several years previously. Sadan was a well-educated woman who had a very colorful life, and who lived in different parts of the world due to the fact that her husband was a State ambassador. Following her diagnosis, the film movingly charts her gradual cognitive decline, as her personality changes, and she slowly loses the ability to look after herself, despite receiving specialist treatment and care from Turkey’s best doctors. The documentary is intended to raise more awareness of the terrible disease, and hopefully inspire others to help find a cure.

Sadan Hanım is the second score released in 2020 from Cyprus-born Los Angeles-based composer George Kallis (the other being the Russian soccer-themed drama Lev Yashin: The Dream Goalkeeper) and, all things considered, it might be one of the best things he’s ever written. The score is bookended by three performances of the score’s main theme, “The River of Life,” an astonishingly beautiful melody which is enriched by the voices of two different vocalists: the Irish singer-songwriter Mairéad MacMullan, who sings Kallis’s lyrics in English, and the Turkish singer-songwriter Candan Erçetin, who translated the lyrics into her native language, and performs them herself with a smoky, exotic, haunting quality in her voice, a Turkish version of Édith Piaf. The final track is an instrumental of the “River of Life” theme, anchored by a gorgeous duet for solo piano and solo cello.

The rest of the score is just lovely; a series of intimate, emotional, lyrical melodies that stand in poignant remembrance of all those who have been touched and lost by this terrible disease. A lot of the focus is on solo moments of great tenderness; Kallis spotlights solo cello, pianos, solo violin, and guitars quite frequently, allowing them to stand out and shine apart from the rest of the orchestra. Sometimes the music is quite upbeat – the title cue “Sadan Hanım” includes a warmly inviting guitar part into the orchestra, while subsequent cues like “Childhood Memories,” “Nostalgia,” and “New Year’s Eve” are filled with a lovely sense of both wistfulness and playfulness, featuring some especially delightful writing for piano and woodwinds in amid the strings.

Alternately, cues like “Signs,” “Fear and Despair,” and “Uncertainty” start to illustrate Sadan’s gradual cognitive decline with sensitivity and restraint, clearly underscoring the gravity of the situation without becoming manipulative or maudlin. The way that Kallis gives his cellos a sort of distorted, dream-like ambiance in “Fear and Despair” is very clever, conveying through music the way the brain and the mind starts to disappear in Alzheimer’s patients. The gentle pan flutes and undulating violins in “Sister’s Funeral” are a lovely touch, while “A Dare at the Beach” feels like something Ennio Morricone might have written, juxtaposing comedic jauntiness with a touch of snare drum tension. Meanwhile, “Her Life, a Journey” uses the more the traditional sounds of guitars, pianos, and what sounds like an accordion and possibly a tambur lute to convey Sadan’s Turkish heritage.

However, best of all are the moments in which aims for the heartstrings and allows his music to soar; “No More Music,” and “Boat Celebrations” are just gorgeous. The conclusive pair, “Photographs” and “The Letter,” are where Kallis really pulls out the emotional stops; there is a sweeping chord progression and key change in “Photographs” that actually made me cry the first time I heard it – damn you Kallis! – but it’s all very tastefully done, and makes for superb listening.

Perhaps what I like most about Sadan Hanım, in addition to all the beautiful instrumental textures and lovely melodies, is the sophistication of it all. There’s a real feeling of class, erudition, and refinement to the score, and a sense that Kallis had a deep emotional connection to what he was scoring, and that comes out clearly through the music. Overall, this comes highly, highly recommended.

Track Listing: 1. The River of Life (performed by Mairéad MacMullan) (2:52), 2. Sadan Hanım (1:38), 3. Childhood Memories (2:34), 4. Signs (1:21), 5. Sister’s Funeral (2:07), 6. Nostalgia (1:34), 7. No More Music (1:42), 8. Fear and Despair (3:08), 9. A Dare at the Beach (2:16), 10. Uncertainty (2:16), 11. Her Life, a Journey (2:50), 12. Mob Attacks (1:56), 13. New Year’s Eve (2:28), 14. Concerns of the Future (1:46), 15. Boat Celebrations (2:28), 16. Photographs (2:23), 17. The Letter (2:36), 18. Sakın Bırakma (performed by Candan Erçetin) (2:53), 19. The River of Life – Instrumental (2:52). Keepmoving Records, 43 minutes 40 seconds.

  1. Ley Bricknell
    October 8, 2020 at 5:59 am

    Thank you so much for this Jon, I love your ‘under the radar’ reviews. Do you have the Download link details of JIM KNOPF UND DIE WILDE 13?

  2. October 8, 2020 at 6:09 am

    Hi Jon,

    October 8, 2020 at 5:59 amReply Thank you so much for this Jon, I love your ‘under the radar’ reviews. Do you have the Download link details of JIM KNOPF UND DIE WILDE 13?

    Sent from my iPad


  3. Jim
    October 13, 2020 at 12:18 pm

    Great write-ups — also wondering how someone in the U.S. can purchase JIM KNOPF UND DIE WILDE 13. Very frustrating that this doesn’t seem to be available here at all.

  4. October 14, 2020 at 1:27 pm

    Please never, ever stop doing these. Ever.

  1. January 26, 2021 at 9:00 am

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