Home > Reviews > Under-the-Radar Round Up 2022, Part 3A

Under-the-Radar Round Up 2022, Part 3A

October 11, 2022 Leave a comment Go to comments

Life has returned to world cinema in 2022 following the easing of the COVID-19 global pandemic, and at the end of the third quarter of the year I’m absolutely delighted to present the latest instalment in my on-going series of articles looking at the best under-the-radar scores from around the world. This article covers five scores for projects from all over the globe, and includes a French TV miniseries set during World War I, a historical Chinese epic, a French children’s action adventure about a lost lion cub, a Spanish-language TV series about what happened to Eva Peron after she died, and a French comedy-drama about an early 20th century president with… shall we say… a few issues.

 

LES COMBATTANTES – François Liétout

Les Combattantes is a French TV drama mini-series broadcast on the TV1 network, created by Cécile Lorne, starring Audrey Fleurot, Julie De Bona, Camille Lou, and Sofia Essaïdi, with Sandrine Bonnaire and Tchéky Karyo. It is set in France in 1914 in the early months of World War I and tells the intertwining stories of four women: a Parisian prostitute, an ambitious union leader working at a truck factory, the mother superior of a convent requisitioned to be used as a military hospital by the French army, and young idealistic nurse who arrives at the hospital with a mysterious past.

The score for Les Combattantes is by the young French composer François Liétout, with whose music I was previously unfamiliar, although he has been working mostly in French TV since 2015. I have to say, though, that if this indicative of the quality of his work then I’m very impressed. The two cues that make up the main “Les Combattantes” theme are outstanding, orchestral and thematic and dramatically potent, with some lonely trumpet solos eventually giving way to a noble, emotionally resonant theme for the full orchestra.

Each of the four main women get their own character themes: factory worker “Caroline” is warm and dependable and led by strings, mother superior “Agnès” has a touch of Catholic liturgy through the use of a soft choir against a reprise of the main theme, prostitute “Marguerite” features tremulous strings and moody pianos underpinned with a sense of trepidation, and nurse “Suzanne” is insistent and no-nonsense, but has a sense of affection in the lovely brass accents. Then there is an overarching “Héroïnes” theme which is just superb, and has a fascinating percussive undercurrent that reminds me of Alexandre Desplat when he is conveying militaristic strength.

The rest of the score builds out of these five or six themes in a variety of impressive ways, with several set pieces standing out, notably the rousing final section of “Départ Au Front,” the playfully nostalgic “Un Fils,” the delicate and crystalline “Tendresse,” and the haunting, poignant final cue “Remise des Médailles”. In addition to this there are some starker depictions of the realities of war in cues like “Trouble,” the urgent and frenetic “L’Operation,” and “Le Péché,” in which Liétout cleverly re-arranges Agnès’s theme for church organs in an action setting.

The score for Les Combattantes is available to stream and download from Apple Music, Spotify, Youtube, Pandora, and all the usual online platforms, but unfortunately has not been released as a physical CD. Nevertheless, Les Combattantes gets a very string recommendation for anyone who wanted to explore the work of yet another excellent new musical voice from French cinema.

Track Listing: 1. Les Combattantes, Pt. 1 (5:19), 2. Les Combattantes, Pt. 2 (1:36), 3. Héroïnes (3:12), 4. Caroline (1:17), 5. Agnès (2:07), 6. Marguerite (4:17), 7. Suzanne (1:26), 8. Départ Au Front (5:04), 9. Un Fils (1:19), 10. L’Arrivée des Blessés (2:07), 11. Trouble (1:25), 12. L’Opération (3:55), 13. Tendresse (1:58), 14. Le Péché (1:56), 15. Une Espionne (3:55), 16. L’Abandon (4:27), 17. Propagande (1:17), 18. Remise des Médailles (1:47). Une Musique, 48 minutes 14 seconds.

 

KING – Guillaume Roussel

King is a French action-adventure comedy film for children, directed by David Moreau. It tells the story of two siblings, Inés and Alex, who are shocked when they find an abandoned lion cub in their home; eventually they discover that the lion – who they name King – escaped from an illegal trafficking ring at the airport close to their home, and they have to find a way to return the lion to safety before the smugglers find them. The film stars Gérard Darmon and Lou Lambrecht as the brother and sister protagonists, and it has a superb score by French composer Guillaume Roussel.

Roussel’s approach to the music was to score it like a classic 1980s adventure, and it’s unexpectedly outstanding, full of old-school melody, rich arrangements, and bursting at the seams with memorable themes, charming sentiment, and rousing fully-orchestral action. The whole score is just tremendous from start to finish, and is anchored around a memorable and energetic main theme, backed by warm and inviting harmonies that speak of good hearted emotion and friendly tenderness between the children and the little cub.

Some of the action music, towards the end of “Le Périple du Lionceau,” and then later in “King s’Échappe” and the outstandingly bombastic “Arène,” has a strong Alan Silvestri or Bruce Broughton vibe, especially when the rhythmic strings and bold, bright brass is underpinned with dancing woodwinds to keep the tone light and magical. There’s occasionally some pretty mickey-mousing too, to capture the child-like wonderment that Inés and Alex feel at the discovery of the lion cub, and its subsequent hi-jinks; cues like “Paul Sauvage,” the Horner-esque “Ines s’Enfuit,” are notable for this, but the score doesn’t adopt this tone for too long, and anyone who finds that sort of whimsical prancing annoying won’t have to deal with it for long.

There are also some darker moments – cues like “Le Post d’Alex et la Traque,” “Vulcania,” and especially “King Est Capturé” and the wonderfully dramatic “Nouvel Adieu” – which clearly relate to the evil animal smugglers/traffickers and their efforts to reclaim the escape cub from the children, and Roussel’s inclusion of them gives the score a nice balance and stops the music from being overly saccharine. The use of wooden percussion in “King Est Capturé” is especially interesting, and gives the cue a very different, mysterious tone.

The two part “Poursuite en Fourgonnette” are exciting and give the final sequence where Inés and Alex try to rescue King back from the smugglers, a real dynamism; the string flurries and some of the brass writing here is especially outstanding, drivng the music forward with a great deal of panache. The conclusive “King Repart Chez Lui” is of course the score’s happy ending, and the little lion cub is rescued and returned to his home in the wild.

Unfortunately, the score for King is not available to purchase on CD, but is available to stream and as a digital download from Amazon, Spotify, and most other good online retailers. This is by far my favorite score from Guillaume Roussel, and anyone with an affinity for classic orchestral action-adventure scores will find it to be directly aligned with their taste.

Track Listing: 1. Le Périple du Lionceau (2:02), 2. Paul Sauvage (3:09), 3. Le Post d’Alex et la Traque (1:27), 4. Ines s’Enfuit (2:00), 5. Une Nuit à la Décharge (2:20), 6. A la Rencontre de Max (2:05), 7. King s’Échappe (1:43), 8. Il y a Un Problème (1:24), 9. Une Promesse (0:59),10. Vulcania (1:12), 11. Arène (2:20), 12. Max Fait du Stop (1:14), 13. Louise Les Retrouve (1:22), 14. Camping en Famille (2:00), 15. King Est Capturé (3:08), 16. Nouvel Adieu (3:36), 17. Poursuite en Fourgonnette, Pt. 1 (2:28), 18. Poursuite en Fourgonnette, Pt. 2 (1:33), 19. King Repart Chez Lui (3:45). Pathé Films Music, 39 minutes 46 seconds.

 

LEGEND OF THE FOREST – Alan Williams

Legend of the Forest is Chinese historical epic film directed by Ge-Ri Tong which tells a dramatic love story set within the culture of the indigenous Ewenki people of northern China and Mongolia. The film takes place in 1945 and follows a Chinese prisoner of war named Wang Haotian, who escapes from his captors and is eventually taken in by the local Ewenki. Wang meets and falls in love with a beautiful Ewenki woman, and for a while all is well – until the industrial might of the new communist regime begins to rear its head, threatening not only Wang’s new life, but the entire Ewenki culture.

The score for Legend of the Forest is by Alan Williams, who with this score becomes the latest western composer to write for a major Chinese film, following in the footsteps of people like Klaus Badelt, Christopher Young, and John Debney, among others. Williams’s score is a massive, thematic epic, recorded with a large orchestra in Macedonia, and augmented by traditional Chinese instruments and it is, in a word, gorgeous.

The score overflows with soaring melodies, the most prominent of which is present from the outset of the first cue “The Forest,” and continues on with prominent statements in “The Ewenki,” “Surveying,” the extended “Cofferdam,” the proud and defiant “Modern Logging,” and many others. There’s more than a hint of John Barry in the way the theme is constructed – I’m reminded specifically of things like Dances With Wolves and Out of Africa – perhaps crossed with James Horner and Legends of the Fall, and of course for me this is a good thing.

This beauty is counterbalanced by more intense moments of dissonance and drama – the second half of “The Forest” with its rumbling percussive lines and keening strings, the tragedy-laden “Forest Fire/Losing Dani” – and occasional explosions of rich, complicated action, notably in the superb “Escape,” towards the end of “Surveying”, and “Taken”. Also of note are the opening moments of the joyous “It Really is Him,” which have a tone like a classic Western.

The ethnic influences tend to specifically represent the Ewenki culture, and the cues in which they feature strongly such as “Deer Grazing” and “Tree Blessing” tend to be pastoral and idyllic, often blending the traditional Chinese woodwind instruments with lush, warm, calm western tones. A romantic theme for Wang and his beautiful Ewenki love emerges in “I’m from Harbin,” a tender and beguiling, carried by a lovely combination of strings and ethnic woodwinds. Later the melody is transposed to an erhu and accompanied by more celebratory percussion items for their “Wedding,” which is the most traditionally Chinese-sounding cue in the score.

Everything builds up to a tremendously satisfying finale in the epic trio comprising “Ewenki Leave the Forest,” “Memories of the Forest,” and “Legend of the Forest,” in which Williams relinquished all pretenses of restrains and subtlety and allows his orchestra to absolutely soar – the performances of the main theme are majestic, the blending between the western orchestra and the Chinese ethnic instruments is outstanding, and the emotional content is moving and powerful. It’s just superb, and proves yet again why Alan Williams should be writing this type of music for major movies with much more frequency than he is.

The score is available to purchase as a digital download from Williams’s personal Bandcamp page at https://musicbyalanwilliams.bandcamp.com/album/legend-of-the-forest, and I highly recommend you do so – this score is outstanding, one of the best of its type this year.

Track Listing: 1. The Forest (2:24), 2. The Ewenki (3:13), 3. Escape (1:56), 4. Deer Grazing (2:20), 5. I Am from Harbin (1:55), 6. Wedding (2:45), 7. Surveying (3:32), 8. Tree Blessing (2:25), 9. Cutting Trees (2:26), 10. Most Beautiful Girl (2:28), 11. It Really Is Him (3:22), 12. Taken (2:12), 13. Zhao Dahai (2:57), 14. Cofferdam (4:16), 15. Return to the Ewenki (4:31), 16. Forest Fire/Losing Dani (3:52), 17. Tomorrow We Go Home (4:02), 18. We Are His Family (1:39), 19. Modern Logging (2:36), 20. Ewenki Leave the Forest (3:28), 21. Memories of the Forest (4:01), 22. Legend of the Forest (5:37). Silver Screen Music/Quinate, 67 minutes 46 seconds.

 

SANTA EVITA – Federico Jusid

While I’m sure than most people have heard of Eva Perón, and know the basics of her life as the beloved first lady of Argentina in the late 1940s and early 1950s, one of the oddest parts of her story actually happened after her death. It turns out that Perón’s embalmed body was not buried straight away, as the Argentine government intended to build a mausoleum monument to her; however, when the government was overthrown in a military coup, plans for the mausoleum were scrapped and the new junta stole Perón’s embalmed body and hid it for almost 20 years, such was their fear that, even in death, Perón’s power would inspire the people to revolt. This Spanish-language TV series Santa Evita tells this unusual, little known story; it stars Natalia Oreiro, Ernesto Alterio, and Francesc Orella, and was co-produced by Salma Hayek.

The score for Santa Evita is by Argentine composer Federico Jusid, who is the undisputed king of Spanish language historical TV series, having written magnificent scores for shows such as Isabel, Carlos Rey Emperador, Hispania: La Leyenda, Tiempos de Guerra, and many others. Santa Evita is technically more contemporary, but his musical approach is the same: rich, passionate orchestral music built around a strong main theme, with special emphasis on sparkling strings.

The main theme, “Santa Evita,” is a haunting, slightly melancholy, but wholly beautiful theme featuring a prominent solo violin, and eventually a wash of lyrical romance. The subsequent “Una Misión” is more traditionally classical, with undulating figures dancing around a prominent piano melody full of drive and drama, but underpinned with a slight touch of comedy as befits the somewhat absurd circumstances of the story.

The rest of the score unfolds in a generally similar fashion, with several standout highlights. The theme for “Doctor Ara” is a little turbulent, a little unsettling, and features a prominent clarinet motif surrounded by surging strings. “La Verdadera La Lleva” is strong and forceful, with a notably vigorous edge to the string writing. “Qué Haría Usted Por La Patria?” has a tortured sound that is quite fascinating, anchored by slurred and dissonant string textures. “La Pródiga” is a waltz, beautiful but a little twisted. “La Mugre De La Gente” is turbulent and powerful, with a thrusting string rhythm underpinning the brass, all surrounded by lithe, darting woodwinds.

Much of everything else has a tone of respectful remembrance and reverence, honoring the life of Evita and the way in which so many of her admirers fought for long to keep her memory and her influence alive; tracks like “Velando a Eva,” “El Cuerpo,” and the powerfully poignant “Pietá” are especially notable for this, and are just lovely. Perhaps the one outlier is “Buenos Aires, 1971” which is a piece of moody, introverted piano jazz, and is out of step with the tone of the rest of the score, but is still superb, and you can hear elements of the main theme running though it.

The album also includes are tracks performed by Gustavo Pomeranec, Mariano Statello and Ute Lemper, but it’s Federico Jusid’s score which is the biggest draw by far; anyone who connected with any of those previous historical drama scores will find Santa Evits to be of a similarly high quality. Unfortunately, the score for Santa Evita is not available to purchase on CD, but is available to stream and as a digital download from Amazon, Spotify, and most other good online retailers.

Track Listing: 1. Santa Evita (1:25), 2. Una Misión (1:26), 3. Doctor Ara (2:45), 4. Velando a Eva (2:20), 5. La Verdadera La Lleva Usted (2:25), 6. Moori Koenig (2:49), 7. El Cuerpo (2:10), 8. Su Piel Es Igual A La Luna (2:13), 9. Qué Haría Usted Por La Patria? (2:43), 10. La Pródiga (2:00), 11. Pietá (2:29), 12. Me Estás Midiendo La Sangre, Milico? (1:47), 13. Buenos Aires, 1971 (2:33), 14. Investigando El Laberinto (2:00), 15. La Mugre De La Gente (2:12), 16. El Choclo (written by Ángel Villoldo, performed by Ute Lemper) (2:22), 17. Acuaforte (written by Gustavo Pomeranec) (2:05), 18. Como Dos Extraños (written by Mariano Statello) (3:44), 19. Cañada Honda (written by Gustavo Pomeranec) (1:00), 20. Bazar De Los Juguetes (written by Gustavo Pomeranec) (3:10). Hollywood Records, 45 minutes 26 seconds.

 

LE TIGRE ET LE PRÉSIDENT – Mathieu Lamboley

Le Tigre et le Président, or The Vanished President in English, is a French comedy-drama film directed by Jean-Marc Peyrefitte, which tells the now little-known story of French president Paul Deschanel, who served just seven months as head of the republic in 1920. Today he is mostly remembered for his erratic behavior and clear mental health issues, notably one famous incident when he fell from a moving train in his nightshirt and was found wandering, confused and disheveled, in the French countryside. The film stars Jacques Gamblin as Deschanel and André Dussollier as his great political rival Georges Clémenceau, who is nicknamed the Tiger, and whose combative nature may have indirectly been responsible for the breakdown of Deschanel’s faculties.

The score for the Le Tigre et le Président is by the excellent young French composer Mathieu Lamboley, who some may remember for his outstanding work on Miniscule: Les Mandibules du Bout du Monde in 2019, and the TV series Lupin in 2021. The score is classical and fully orchestral, but also a little whimsical, often incorporating pizzicato textures, rambling pianos, and mischievous-sounding clarinets into the symphonic mix. There is a slight caper-like quality to some of the music, as well as some subtle hints of jazz hat often remind me of the type of music Alexandre Desplat would write for a film like this.

The score is probably best summarized by the opening cue “Deschanel a Disparu,” which sees Lamboley combining all there aforementioned ideas and influences into an overarching piece that is terrifically entertaining, treading the fine line between rambunctious chaos and all-out musical anarchy; subsequent cues like the busy and frenetic “Le Tigre Brigue La Présidence,” the scatterbrained “Première Actualité,” the wonderfully engaging “L’Elysée,” the high-spirited “Tout N’est Peut-Être Pas Perdu,” and the Michael Nyman-esque “Le Grand Discours” build on some of the same ideas with excellent results.

“Ecole Buissonière” and “Allons Enfants De La Patrie” are a pretty and wry waltzes that remind me of some of Shostakovich’s works in the style, and often feature a prominent accordion. Then, to add some depth and poignancy to the score, parts of cues like “Fini Comme La Guerre” or the quite ominous “Véronal” sometimes become quite serious, offering a different and more mature emotional reflection of Deschanel’s life.

“Espoir d’Une Nation” is a tragedy-laden version of the main theme that is really effective, especially when an emotional choir comes in towards the cue’s climax. Them to cap it all off, “Un Jour Peut Être…” is a staggeringly beautiful operatic aria performed by French mezzo-soprano Ambroisine Bré, adapted from the main theme. Such is its authenticity it feels like it could be a lost work from Vincenzo Bellini; it’s just wonderful.

Unfortunately, the score for Le Tigre et le Président is not available to purchase on CD, but is available to stream and as a digital download from Amazon, Spotify, and most other good online retailers. Lamboley’s work here is tremendously high quality, comedic and playful, but with a clear sense of classical musicality that is magnificently captivating.

Track Listing: 1. Deschanel a Disparu (4:01), 2. Ecole Buissonière (1:10), 3. Le Tigre Brigue La Présidence (1:50), 4. Première Actualité (1:51), 5. Fini Comme La Guerre (1:38), 6. Allons Enfants De La Patrie (3:11), 7. Véronal (2:35), 8. Tombé du Train (3:52), 9. L’Elysée (1:22), 10. Sur Les Rails (1:19), 11. Espoir d’Une Nation (3:09), 12. Tout N’est Peut-Être Pas Perdu (1:37), 13. Joyeux Bordel (1:26), 14. Le Grand Discours (3:18), 15. Droit De Vote Pour Les Femmes (1:28), 16. Un Jour Peut Être… (3:01), 17. Le Rêveur (2:26). 440HZ Records, 39 minutes 07 seconds.

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