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INDOCHINE – Patrick Doyle

October 27, 2022 Leave a comment Go to comments


Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

One of the most critically acclaimed French films of the 1990s was director Régis Wargnier’s Indochine, a sprawling and epic romantic drama set against the backdrop of the last days of French colonialism in South-East Asia in the 1930s and 40s. The film stars screen legend Catherine Deneuve as Éliane Devries, the owner of a large rubber plantation in Vietnam, whose adopted daughter Camille (Linh Dan Pham) is a member of the noble Nguyen Dynasty, which ruled the country prior to French colonization. Both Éliane and Camille live a life of wealth and blasé privilege, but things begin to change when they independently meet and fall in love with Jean-Baptiste (Vincent Pérez), a dashing lieutenant in the French navy. The fallout from this love triangle begins to tear the family apart, and eventually results in Camille becoming involved with a group of Vietnamese communist revolutionaries who dream of independence for the country. The film was a massive domestic success, winning five César Awards (and being nominated for a further seven), while also winning the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 1992.

One of the César nominations it received was for its score, which was written – perhaps unexpectedly – by Patrick Doyle. While it is generally common for foreign composers to score English-language films, it is much less common for the reverse to happen, and so the fact that Doyle was approached to score one of that year’s most prestigious French films is surprising, considering that Georges Delerue, Maurice Jarre, Vladimir Cosma, Gabriel Yared, Philippe Sarde, Jean-Claude Petit, and several other well-established French composers were all still very much available. Furthermore, Indochine was essentially Doyle’s fourth-ever score – at this point in his career he only had Henry V, Shipwrecked, and Dead Again to his name – but director Wargnier clearly knew what he wanted his film to sound like, because Indochine is a score very much based in the same enormous, lush, thematic, classically orchestral sound as those previous works.

Indochine is, in a word, epic. Roger Ebert described the film as a “French Gone with the Wind, a story of romance and separation, told against the backdrop of a ruinous war,” and Patrick Doyle clearly felt the same, ultimately endowing the film with a score that never misses a chance to enhance every moment of emotional power or sumptuous landscape shot with music of equal luxuriousness. Doyle wrote the score for a 120-piece orchestra and choir (they had one of the largest music budgets ever for a French film), and built in several recurring themes – a main theme for the overall story, a multi-faceted love theme representing the Éliane/Jean-Baptiste/Camille love triangle, and some representations of Vietnamese culture – as well as several moments of intense action and dramatic power.

In a score of endless highlights, several cues stand out. The opening piece, “The Adoption,” introduces much of the score’s recurring material. It begins with subtle metallic sounds, glistening like sunlight off the Mekong River, before introducing a host of mystical, overlapping voices, graceful and ghostly, perhaps a representation of the Vietnamese people and a slight nod to the region’s folk music. This eventually gives way to the stunning first performance of the score’s main theme at the 2:08 mark, a mass of swirling, swooning, vividly powerful cellos that eventually melt into something more lyrical and harmonically romantic for the higher parts of the string section. You can feel the rich history and opulence of colonial Vietnam, as well as the staggering natural beauty of the place, in this music, and it’s a perfect aural match for Wargnier’s gorgeous cinematography and production design.

Different aspects of the main theme are then taken away and molded into the score’s love theme, which receives several notable performances. “First Rendezvous” is a romance for strings underscoring the initial meeting between Jean-Baptiste and Éliane, while “We’re Two People” is initially a little more hesitant and curious, featuring some delicate interplay between strings and woodwinds to illustrate the first fateful meeting between Jean-Baptiste and Camille. The second half of the cue then contains some strident, intense action and more references to the main theme, as Jean-Baptiste saves Camille from a terrorist attack, and in doing so cements their love. Some of the trilling woodwind writing here recalls some of the thematic ideas from Henry V, which is of course a very good thing indeed.

Other action cues of note include “The Burning Boat” and “The Thunderstorm”. The former is an especially impressive sequence for dominant brass, depicting the visually startling scene where Jean-Baptiste sets a boat filled with illegally smuggled opium on fire on the Mekong River. The latter initially contains some turbulent snare drum riffs underpinning slashing strings and striking, powerful brass, while the second half is generally lighter and more playful, with more prominent darting woodwinds, but still threaded with serious intrigue and drama, including a superb pulsating brass idea that runs through the entire sequence, and of course more allusions to the main theme. All of these action cues contain stylistic echoes of Henry V and Dead Again, while foreshadowing some of the action music Doyle would go on to write for Carlito’s Way, Frankenstein, and others, and it’s just terrific – complicated, dense, richly textured, and wonderfully entertaining.

In “Isle of the Dragon” Éliane finds out about Jean-Baptiste’s affair with Camille and uses her political connections to have Jean-Baptiste sent away to a remote military outpost – if she can’t have him no one will – and Doyle scores this betrayal with intense emotion and a hint of tragedy in the strings, lamenting for the destruction of the mother/daughter trust between Éliane and Camille, and how that mirrors the allegorical relationship between France and Vietnam.

The subsequent Dragon Island sequence – from “Exodus” through to the end of “The Escape” – underscores Camille’s journey through the inhospitable Vietnamese countryside as she tries to find Jean-Baptiste. Doyle’s dramatic underscore is underpinned with tragedy as Camille, freshly liberated from her sheltered and privileged former life, sees for the first time how much her people are suffering under French colonial rule. Things come to a head in “Journey’s End,” and initially there is a big sweep of romance from the main theme as Camille and Jean-Baptiste are reunited, but things quickly turn dark and deadly as Camille attacks and kills a French officer who is torturing a Vietnamese worker; Doyle scores Camille’s violent social awakening with staccato brass punches and rumbling percussion, while an orchestral cry of anguish emerges from his statement of the main theme.

“The Escape” sees the main theme underpinned with searching strings as Camille and Jean-Baptiste fight to make their way away from Vietnam and out on to the open waters of the South China Sea. Then, in “The Decision,” they realize that their former lives are essentially over and they head for the relative safety of China. Doyle scores this life-changing moment with achingly tender woodwinds, passed between oboes and clarinets, and has echoes of the main theme in the supporting strings.

“Birth and Revolution” is the last of the score’s major action sequences; it’s darker and more turbulent, and contains a series of fantastic brass flurries offset against forceful string passages and raging percussion patterns, building up to a bombastic ending as Camille – who has become something of a folk hero amongst the Vietnamese for her actions – embraces her new persona as the ‘Red Princess’ revolutionary. I love the way the main theme is carried by an elegant cello in the subsequent “Vietnamese Mothers,” while “The Coffin” contains an emotional variant on the love theme for Camille and Jean-Baptiste.

“Éliane Finds Camille” is the score’s dramatic climax, representing the final confrontation between mother and daughter as they try to reconcile after many years of estrangement, but find that their fates – like that of the country itself – lie along different paths. Doyle’s score for the scene revisits the choral textures not heard since the opening cue – perhaps offering a vocal lament for their relationship, and for Vietnam itself – before building up to a sweeping, melodramatic conclusion filled with dramatic, powerful renditions of the main theme, heavy percussion, cascading strings, and a notably magnificent trumpet line. The finale cue, “Indochine,” is the end credits recapitulation of everything the score has to offer – just superb – and then the three ‘source music’ cues at the end of the album offer variations on the main themes arranged variously as a tango, a waltz, and a rhumba.

One of the things I love about Indochine is how it opened up Patrick Doyle’s music to the wider world, and gave him such a magnificent canvas on which to paint. Perhaps the only criticism one can make of it is the fact that, beyond some of the choral ideas, Doyle chose not to really delve into the intricacies of authentic Vietnamese folk music, which some may consider something of a missed opportunity. But, honestly, when the western orchestral music is this good, it’s easy to ignore that and simply revel in its splendor.

The success of Indochine resulted in a long creative collaboration between Doyle and director Wargnier – they would later go on to work together on Une Femme Française in 1995, Est-Ouest in 1999, Man to Man in 2005, Pars Vite et Reviens Tard in 2007, and La Ligne Droite in 2011 – but, pound for pound, this probably remains my favorite of their partnerships. This is a quintessential Doyle score, filled with all the good things that first shook the film music world as he made his 1989 debut with Henry V; if you have ever fallen head over heels for any of Doyle’s fervently dramatic, deeply romantic, sweeping orchestral score, then Indochine will absolutely be to your taste.

Buy the Indochine soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • The Adoption (3:50)
  • The Burning Boat (1:19)
  • First Rendezvous (1:22)
  • We’re Two People (3:06)
  • The Thunderstorm (3:46)
  • Isle of the Dragon (1:39)
  • Exodus (1:21)
  • Camille’s Journey (2:28)
  • Journey’s End (5:16)
  • The Escape (4:18)
  • The Decision (2:18)
  • The Road to China (0:55)
  • Birth and Revolution (1:53)
  • Vietnamese Mothers (1:00)
  • The Coffin (1:11)
  • Éliane Finds Camille (2:57)
  • I No Longer Have a Past (2:31)
  • Indochine (4:28)
  • Tango (3:40)
  • Yvette’s Waltz (1:28)
  • The Last Rhumba (1:26)

Running Time: 52 minutes 25 seconds

Varese Sarabande VSD- 5397 (1992)

Music composed by Patrick Doyle. Conducted by William Kraft. Orchestrations by Lawrence Ashmore. Recorded and mixed by Chris Dibble and Steve Price. Edited by Roy Prendergast. Album produced by Patrick Doyle.

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