Joep's Arthouse Scores

May 2008

Music connects different cultures around the world. This cliché never rings more true than in the Israeli tragicomedy Bikur ha-Tizmoret (The Band Visits). We witness an Egyptian police fanfare traveling to Israel to perform in an Arab culture center. However, they don’t know how to get there and end up in a small village. Composer Habib Shehadeh didn’t only write the music played by the fanfare, but also the score for the movie, with traditional piano and a Middle Eastern plucked string instrument called the ‘oud’. In the film, one of the players of the band has written an unfinished concerto, which the composer also uses as a theme for his piano/oud score. The music beautifully reflects the tragic position of all band members, how the art of music is lost in the Arabian world (the youth doesn’t care about fanfares), but also how some passionate musicians still care about it.

To my delight, I also got to see the film Sukkar Banat (Caramel), a Libanese film that didn’t deal with the awful things happening there currently. Instead you got a charming romantic comedy focusing on the love life of a small group of woman working in a beauty parlour in Beirut. Khaled Mouzanar wrote passionate, melancholic music, dominated by strings and piano, that softly underlines the women’s sensibility. While using Middle Eastern instruments such as the oud, kanoun and ney, the composer was influenced by classical and tango music, which is evident throughout the score. Thematic material is the score’s main thrust and the melodies are also arranged into two beautiful songs, sung by Racah Rizk. The music just humbly serves this film, so that you start falling in love with both the music and the composer yourself, as director Nadine Labaki did; she and Mouzanar married shortly after the film's release. The score of the movie is available through record label Naive.

The Turkish/German film Auf der anderen Seite (Yasamin Kiyisinda, The Edge of Heaven) tells a story of loss and forgiveness. Director Fatih Akin asked Shantel (the artist name of Stefan Hansel), a popular writer of club music, to write the score. His abilities to unite various cultures had not been unnoticed and clearly he was the right choice for the project. For this film he composed music that varies between a more traditional sound from Istanbul and Black Sea area music: Turkish artists to play traditional instruments, which is mixed with European club music. It’s quite unique that a traditional/modern clash like this can sound so refreshing. An instrument like the kemence was processed into a computer and digitally manipulated, successfully making the knee violin sound different. Shantel’s atmospheric music is honorably matching the Turkish landscapes and does a terrific job at creating a moving, sad tone. Publicmoon released a cd with both the score and some Turkish songs.

Film scores can communicate something that isn’t seen on screen or can be used in contrast to what happens on screen, as for example happens in Mio fratello è figlio unico (My Brother Is an Only Child). Composer Franco Piersanti wrote a light theme for the funny parts and an emotional theme for the dramatic scenes. The director however thought differently and used the music the other way round to establish a good balance between the drama and comedy. Because of this, you’re somehow made more aware of the thin line between tragedy and joy, if even unconsciously. Then again, the composer’s more regular idea would probably have worked as well. Released on disc by Sony BMG.

One last film that made quite an impression on me was the very confronting Canadian film Away From Her with a score by Jonathan Goldsmith. The composer wrote a very ambient oriented score for guitar, violin, bass and keyboards that managed to not heavily interfere with the character’s personal environment of a husband and his wife suffering from Alzheimer's disease. The sweet sounding atmospheric music perfectly underscores the continuous care of the husband and the snowy landscapes of Canada. Interesting enough, Goldsmith doesn’t really dramatize the disturbed mental condition of the husband who gets no proper assistance in these difficult times, with his wife declining. I loved it. Arrangement records released the music on disc.

Written by Joep de Bruijn