Home > Reviews > THE LOVER [L’AMANT] – Gabriel Yared

THE LOVER [L’AMANT] – Gabriel Yared


Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

The Lover, or L’Amant in its native language, is a French romantic drama film directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud, adapted from the semi-autobiographical 1984 novel of the same name by Marguerite Duras. The film explores the illicit affair between an unnamed teenage French girl and an unnamed wealthy Chinese man in French Indochina in 1929; the teenage girl is played by actress Jane March, while her lover is played by Hong Kong cinema legend Tony Leung. The film also features the legendary Jeanne Moreau as a narrator, intended to be author Duras looking back at her own adolescence. While certainly scandalous in its sympathetic portrayal of under-age love and explicit sex – many critics drew parallels between it and the story of Lolita – the film was a domestic commercial and critical success, going on to be nominated for seven César Awards in France, as well as being nominated for an Oscar for Robert Fraisse’s lush cinematography, which portrays colonial Saigon in gorgeous, romantic hues.

The score for The Lover is by French-Lebanese composer Gabriel Yared, who at this point in his career was very well-known in Europe, having written scores for successful and popular films such as Betty Blue in 1986, Agent Trouble in 1987, and Camille Claudel in 1988, but he was still mostly an unknown quantity amongst English-speaking audiences, and wouldn’t truly break through until he won the Oscar for The English Patient in 1996. The Lover is one of his best scores of the period, a romantic and delicate classical exploration of forbidden romance offset with a musical depiction of the sights and sounds of colonial French Indochina, which he achieves with some authentic-sounding allusions to both Vietnamese and Chinese folk music.

Most people will gravitate towards Yared’s musical representation of the central love affair, and rightly so, because it’s very beautiful. It’s interesting that the focus of the score is to convey the relationship between the Girl and the Man in a wholly positive, non-judgmental light; Yared never comments on the fact that the age gap between the Girl and the Man is so large, and never really explores the fallout of their relationship on the others around them – for example the Girl’s dysfunctional family, the Man’s arranged bride, and the Man’s traditional father, who vastly disapproves of his son’s dalliance with a white girl. Instead, Yared simply and quietly revels in their passion for one another, and the all-encompassing but ultimately doomed nature of the relationship that develops.

The score is anchored by a lovely, warm, romantic main theme that plays throughout much of the film; it is introduced in the opening cue, “A Kiss on the Window,” and is present in many cues thereafter. “Promenade” features writing for tender, fragile strings and woodwinds, with just the merest hint of jazz in the little piano accents, some of which reminded me of Ennio Morricone and the way he would often inject little jazzy chords into his love themes. The main theme is explored with more depth and richness in the subsequent title cue, “The Lover,” which augments the orchestra with electronic sweeteners to give it a slightly more contemporary edge. Finally, in the conclusive “The Departure,” Yared gives the theme an air of bittersweet melancholy; it’s attractive, but you can certainly tell that this music is underscoring a sad parting, as the man regretfully marries his arranged bride to appease his father, and the girl boards a ship days later to return to France.

Interestingly, “Blue Zoon” adapts the theme as a languid piece of period jazz carried by a clarinet, a muted trumpet, and weeping strings, while “Nocturne” re-imagines the theme as a highly classical piece for solo piano. Elsewhere, “One Day on the Mekong” and “The Barricades” use watery synths and dreamy, mystical woodwind textures as a way to convey the richness and beauty of traditional Vietnamese culture, while “A Man from Cholon” is a darker exploration of this same idea, and uses unsettling electronic textures and ethnic percussion to convey a much more threatening mood.

In addition to Yared’s dramatic score, the Frenchman also wrote several original period pieces to further enhance the time and place of the film’s setting. “One Step Dance” and “Foxtrot Dance” are fun and whimsical pieces of source music. “Hélène” is a rich and flamboyant paso doble dance piece, all flashing horns an clattering castanets. “Valse a l’Etage” is a lyrical classical waltz for piano and flutes, manipulated to sound like a vintage recording, complete with intentional distortions through the hiss and fuzz of damaged vinyl, and the subsequent “Habanera” apes Georges Bizet with similar acoustics. Finally, “La Marseillaise” is a re-imagining of the French national anthem, curiously arranged for Vietnamese folk music instruments.

It’s interesting to see Gabriel Yared’s approach to all this, because it’s all defiantly European. Had The Lover been made in America, especially in the early 1990s, I think there would have been a certain expectation that the music would adopt the sentimental clichés‘ of ‘Hollywood melodrama,’ but Yared mostly avoids all that. Instead, he scores the relationship in The Lover in a slightly more abstract and aloof way, preferring to observe the relationship from afar rather than getting under its skin. Some may find this more cerebral approach a little cold, and as such may not connect to it easily. For me, I actually and unexpectedly appreciated Yared’s slightly detached sound, and I still found myself able to feel for the central pair through Yared’s lush orchestrations.

The score was released simultaneously in the United States by Varese Sarabande and in France by Virgin Records – the content is the same, although the track titles are different, in English and French. The American album cover is the one shown here. An expanded release of the soundtrack was released by Music Box Records in 2017 as a 200-unit limited edition, expanded to 62 minutes, including 20 minutes of previously unreleased music. Both albums come with a recommendation, for anyone who wants to explore some of the music from Gabriel Yared’s earlier career, but the recommendation is hesitant for anyone who prefers their romance music to be bold, sweeping, and less subtle.

Buy the Lover soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • A Kiss on the Window (1:45)
  • Blue Zoon (2:46)
  • One Day on the Mekong (3:31)
  • One Step Dance (2:09)
  • Promenade (3:35)
  • A Man from Cholon (1:25)
  • Hélène (2:37)
  • Valse a l’Etage (1:50)
  • The Problems of Life (2:26)
  • Foxtrot Dance (2:27)
  • The Lover (3:11)
  • Habanera (1:48)
  • The Barricades (0:58)
  • Nocturne (3:51)
  • La Marseillaise (1:13)
  • The Departure (3:42)
  • Ce Jour-là sur le Mékong (Générique Début) (2:56)
  • Un Baiser sur la Vitre (1:46)
  • Blue Zoon (2:47)
  • La Traversée du Fleuve (1:23)
  • Promenade en Limousine (3:36)
  • Un Pas d’One Step (2:11)
  • Caresses (1:14)
  • Habanera (1:48)
  • Les Soucis (2:27)
  • Le Paso d’Hélène (2:40)
  • Retour à Sadec (0:55)
  • Blue Zoon (Piano) (3:15)
  • L’Homme de Cholon (2:58)
  • Hélène au Pensionnat (0:29)
  • Valse à l’Étage (2:43)
  • Promenade en Limousine (2e version) (1:26)
  • Les Barrages (3:19)
  • Nocturne (4:23)
  • Foxtrot Dance (2:29)
  • Le Départ (3:52)
  • Valse Opus 69, N°2 (Frédéric Chopin) (2:32)
  • L’Amant (Générique Fin) (3:16)
  • Variation Libre sur le Chant des Boys (2:22) DEMO
  • Nocturne (4:23) DEMO

Running Time: 40 minutes 00 seconds – Original
Running Time: 62 minutes 09 seconds – Expanded

Varese Sarabande VSD-5394 (1992) – Original
Virgin 874042 (1992) – Original
Music Box Records MBR-110R (1992/2017) – Expanded

Music composed and conducted by Gabriel Yared. Orchestrations by Gabriel Yared and Ronnie Hazelhurst. Recorded and mixed by John Timperley and Hervé le Coz. Edited by Georges Rodi. Virgin album produced by Gabriel Yared, Hervé le Coz and Georges Rodi. Varese album produced by Robert Townson.

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