Joep's Arthouse Scores

International Film Festival Rotterdam 2009 (21st January - 1st February)

The International Film Festival Rotterdam (IFFR) is a great festival to discover new filmmakers, to see films from all countries around the world. Some of them end up playing in my local arthouse cinema, but most will never even get a Dutch release. If you’re lucky you can sometimes talk to composers who also attend the festival. I’ve been fortunate to meet some, who offered me a bright and fresh view on scoring a picture. But this year I only managed to see quite some interesting films with splendid scores.

The Filippian filmmaker Rico Maria Ilarde combines horror with action, crime and romance for his film called Sa Ilalim ng cogon (Beneath the Cogon). It’s about a criminal who’s on the run after a messy robbery and ends up in an ‘abandoned’ house. There are criminals after him, he’s getting into a relationship, there’s a mysterious subplot and some horrifying creatures. The film’s a real mess, but the music cleverly ties everything together. Composer Malek Lopez has had classical training and also plays in a triphop band. You can’t go around the obvious triphop influences as he uses typically smooth beats for several action scenes. Lopez also doesn’t avoid the more traditional horror music and creates just the right tension and atmosphere. The biggest treat is the memorable romantic music, gently performed by guitar. All together these three styles are a fine mix.

Shultes (directed by Bakur Bakuradze) is a Russian crime drama, in the traditions of Robert Bresson’s Pickpocket. Obviously, it’s about a pickpocket thief, but the movie deals with how you as a spectator think of him at the beginning of the film and how at the end. When his latest victim ends up in the hospital, he begins to regret his criminal activities. And to illustrate this point, the director did a scene wherein the character is staring around the room, clearly being saddened by these recent events. On the background some subtle sound design contributed to this very emotional moment. This was the only part that seemed to have some score, but I wasn’t sure if this was original written score/ sound design. Luckily, the director was there to answer my question; it was random noise they didn’t remove. Remarkable how unintended noise can produce an emotional feeling close to what a score does.

The Screen at Kamchanod, a Thai horror film directed by Songsak Mongkolthong, was a real feast for fans of horror flicks. The film is about the mystery surrounding a movie screening in the forest of Kamchanod, where according to the legend, ghosts appeared out of nowhere. A small group of people are trying to solve the mystery. The scary score was written by a composer whose name I can’t remember, to my own embarrassment. I loved the mood building piano, atmospheric effects, deep thriving bass and sinuous strings. I praise the way how the composer created so much more tension, but I also noticed how wrong the music sometimes was. The film contains such an awful lot of shock effects that you don’t have to be a genius to realise things can go wrong. Sometimes the music kicks in a bit too late, resulting in a row of failing shock effects throughout the film.

Written by Joep de Bruijn