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FIRST LOVE – George Kallis

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

First Love is a romantic drama film, written and directed by A. J. Edwards, starring young heartthrob actor Hero Fiennes Tiffin (nephew of actors Ralph and Joseph Fiennes). The film tells parallel stories of two relationships within the Albright family, initially following son Jim (Tiffin) a senior in high school, who experiences the highs and lows of his first love with Ann (Sydney Park) prior their respective departures to college. Meanwhile Jim’s parents Kay (Kruger) and Glenn (Jeffrey Donovan) are dealing with the fallout of the 2008 financial collapse, as Glenn has been fired from his job and struggles to find work. These two stories intertwine and mirror each other, offering an interesting juxtaposition between teenage infatuation, and the realities of what it takes to make an adult relationship survive under immense stress. The film has been generally well-received, despite it being very much aimed at the ‘teen romance’ market, with all the familiar beats and story conceits that entails.

The score for First Love is by the Cyprus-born composer George Kallis, who was a rather late addition to the film’s crew after the initial original score (by Richard Reed Parry of the band Arcade Fire) was rejected by the producers, over the wishes of the director. Kallis has tackled this sort of wistful and poignant romance scoring before, through his work on the third film in the ‘After’ series, After We Fell, another film starring Hero Fiennes Tiffin, and which was made by the same production company. However, as engaging as the score for After We Fell was, I think that First Love might have given Kallis a little bit more of an opportunity to develop his own style and sound, considering that the After series’s sound was mostly pre-defined by the composer of the first two scores, Justin Caine Burnett.

As such, Kallis’s music for First Love feels more authentically him. It’s a small-scale work, written mostly for piano, with strings recorded in Hungary with the Budapest Art Orchestra, and it feels to me that this is sort of Kallis’s tribute to John Barry. It’s not Somewhere in Time, or anything like that – what is, for heaven’s sake? – but nevertheless the slow, graceful, delicate unfolding of the music in First Love certainly feels like it owes a stylistic debt to the great composer. The score is built around three recurring themes: a love theme for Jim and Ann, a theme for the Albright family that encompasses the relationship between Jim’s parents and the troubles they face, and then an overarching main theme for the story as a whole. The three themes are all essentially tonal variations on one another, but they are wholly delightful, and weave a captivating, emotional spell.

The overarching main theme gets its first primary outing in the opening cue “First Love,” and receives an especially lovely performance later in “Let’s Not Worry for Once”. The Love Theme for Jim and Ann is introduced in the fourth cue “Love at First Sight,” and appears in numerous guises in multiple cues thereafter, notably in “It Couldn’t Be Brighter” and the remarkably pretty “I Don’t Hate You”. “It Couldn’t Be Brighter” is actually an interesting variation as it builds on the sound palette with a subtle electronic synth wash and some contemporary-sounding guitar licks performed by George Solonos, adding a new element to the score’s whole vibe.

Meanwhile, the Family Theme is introduced in the second cue “A Family Tradition,” anchored by a tender cello performance by soloist Joy Adams, and receives especially beautiful restatements and variations in cues such as “Leaving the House” and “Of Course It Is”. Other cues simply revel in the warmth and romantic tenderness of these three main themes; “Keep It,” “She Lost Hope,” “Anniversary,” and “Meeting Again” just melt in your ears. “He Is Different,” “I Love You Too,” and “Do You Have One More” feature some more of those contemporary guitars, while “Big Changes” uses an almost subliminal percussive pulse to add a touch more intensity, and then works in both a solo woodwind texture and a vocal effect to really enhance the drama of the moment.

There is also a variation on the Family Theme cello idea, a more haunting, morose theme related to the illness and death of a supporting character whose story interweaves with those of the main characters; the performances of this theme in “A Funeral” and the more piano-centric “Mother of the Never Setting Sun” are just gorgeous, while the development in the subsequent pair “I Just Want Things to Be Different” and “Tear in the Lung” has a much darker tone overall, with rhythmic pianos lending the cues an air of quiet desperation. I also really like the textures in “Empty House,” which make use of a breathy, echoing synth tone behind the poignant piano line, giving the whole thing a ghostly, shimmering quality.

Thankfully, this sadness is counterbalanced by moments that are sunnier and more joyful, notably “I Won’t Give Up on Her” and “Gratitude,” before everything comes together in the beautiful, nostalgic, slightly contemplative end credits piece “Happiness”.

First Love is a beautiful score, but be aware that it is very much rooted in the more low-key style of modern romantic cinema, rather than the more melodramatic and sweeping style of years gone by. If you keep that in mind, and don’t go in expecting it to sound like Georges Delerue, then I expect you to have a good time. The trio of recurring themes are very attractive, the solo cello performances are especially beautiful, and the subtle John Barry-like way that the score slowly reveals its magic makes it worth the wait. Perhaps my only comment is that Kallis’s three main themes do tend to blend into one another somewhat, which makes it hard to pick apart the narrative threads unless you’re really listening intently, but beyond that – this comes with a hearty recommendation to anyone who enjoys contemporary film music romance, and George Kallis’s particular interpretation of that.

Buy the First Love soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • First Love (Opening Titles) (1:47)
  • A Family Tradition (1:28)
  • Separation of Employment (1:16)
  • Love at First Sight (1:36)
  • Keep It (1:56)
  • A Friend from School (0:31)
  • He Is Different (1:28)
  • She Lost Hope (2:06)
  • Touched (1:00)
  • Anniversary (1:12)
  • Couldn’t Be Brighter (1:03)
  • Easy (0:39)
  • Big Changes (2:06)
  • A Funeral (1:39)
  • What’s Your Advice (1:08)
  • Empty House (2:04)
  • Mother of the Never Setting Sun (1:39)
  • Leaving the House (1:34)
  • Of Course It Is (0:48)
  • I Don’t Hate You (1:04)
  • I Wanna Help (1:12)
  • Meeting Again (0:57)
  • I Love You Too (1:51)
  • I Just Want Things to Be Different (2:04)
  • Tear in the Lung (1:16)
  • Ring (0:47)
  • Do You Have One More (1:43)
  • I Won’t Give Up on Her (1:06)
  • Gratitude (1:27)
  • Expats (1:20)
  • Camping (1:05)
  • Let’s Not Worry for Once (1:25)
  • Happiness (End Credits) (2:30)

Running Time: 46 minutes 47 seconds

Cinematic Soundscapes (2022)

Music composed by George Kallis. Conducted by Peter Pejtsik. Orchestrations by Apostolos Papapostolou. Recorded and mixed by Gabor Buczko. Album produced by George Kallis.

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