Joep's Arthouse Scores

September/October 2008

After a break I’m glad to be back with a new article. Let’s start with a blooming score. Gary Yershon’s score to Mike Leigh’s Happy-Go-Lucky is by far the happiest score I’ve heard in years! What would you expect from such a title, right? The composer wrote music for a woman named Poppy, who’s most likely the happy-go-lucky queen of the world. Yerhson’s score makes use of light strings, woodwinds, brass, some bass and classical guitar. Wherever Poppy goes, whatever she’s doing, the music is there to happily accompany her in every day life.

One can think very lightly about the use of classical music in films. I must admit, I’m one of those persons who sometimes think I could have chosen the pieces myself. Watching a film like Un Baiser S'il Vous Plaît (Shall We Kiss?) was a random reminder of the fact that this process of choosing is a lot harder than it looks, even though director Emmanuel Mouret claimed that it was quite a random, natural process. In this romantic comedy, told in frame narrative, you learn all about the traps of love. It’s about a woman telling a story of two people and how their love developed and how they committed adultery to be together. Sometimes the classical pieces are edited under sequences where the music works as a small intermezzo, while also commenting on emotional things happening on screen. The light approach to the subject created an opportunity to use classical music from Dvorak and Tchaikovsky in the beginning of the film, accentuating the rather clumsy amorous behavior of the characters. Then other works from Verdi, Sibelius and Schubert follow. At a certain moment, both the music and the story take a more dramatic turn with a leading role for the music of Schubert. Not coincidentally, Schubert was written into the script as being one of the favorite composers of a character and thus adding to the dramatic level of complexity. This is a great example of how smart classical music can give a film such a brilliant style and grace.

The Serbian/German/Hungarian co-production Klopka (The Trap) is a very raw psychological drama, directed by Srdan Golubovic. In the film, there’s a Serbian family who desperately tries finding enough money to finance heart surgery for their son. When an unknown person offers to help the family out, he wants the father to assassinate someone else in return. The film effectively shows that years after the war has ended, the country remains a moral mess. German composer Mario Schneider does a terrific job in adding to the depressive drama. The score opens with very ominous music, which includes continuous string movement, chimes, piano, electronic textures and an ethnic instrument. As the film progresses it becomes clear that the piano, sometimes in combination with guitar sounds, alludes to the young child, while the (unknown) ethnic instrument adds to the intensity of the drama.Yet the ethnic sound also painfully translates the past and current status of the city of Belgrado.

Andrei Dergachyov’s (also known as Andrej Djorgatsjev) score to Andrei Zvyagintsev's Vozvrashcheniye (The Return)was quite an eye-opener. This Russian film composer wrote an organic sonic wall of a score that included more traditional Georgian and Armenian instruments, while also using manipulated natural sounds. He then scored the next film of the same director called Ignazie (The Banishment), the project I intend to talk about. This film evolves around melancholic life lessons similar to those of films by Ingmar Bergman and Andrez Tarkovsky. It tells the story of a family moving to a countryside house and from the very first time you see the husband and wife you can tell they’re not communicating well. Things get even worse when the wife reveals she’s pregnant again (from someone else) and the husband has to decide how to act. The heavily religious element in this film is presented by a gorgeous score by Andrei Dergachyov, classical music by Arvo Pärt and Orthodox chanting. In film music history there have been lots of examples of ‘’one cue’’ scores and this is such a case. But no matter how many times (about 10) the piece of music is being used, it always serves the film very effectively. The cue starts with a very interesting atmospheric, droning electronic sound that develops into something religious as some unidentifiable Orthodox choir is being mixed with the music. Dergachyov’s background as a sound designer shouldn’t go unnoticed because of the strange mixture of sounds that have been altered. Overall his music adds something strongly ethereal to the film and serves the subtle drama very well.

Written by Joep de Bruijn