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  • Composed by Alexandre Desplat
  • Silva Screen / 2004 / 43:05

A relatively new name in the film music world, Alexandre Desplat burst onto the scene with his widely-admired music for The Girl in the Pearl Earring in 2003 and then followed up the following year with Birth, released by New Line Records in the US and Silva Screen elsewhere.  A somewhat controversial film, not just because of its (faintly ridiculous) plot which sees a woman become convinced that a 10 year old boy is the reincarnation of her dead husband, and so she becomes obsessed with spending time with him, including (most controversially of all) having a bath; but it also attracted notoriety because of comments made by one of its stars, Lauren Bacall, about another, Nicole Kidman, to the press.

However, I’m sure there wouldn’t be much of a hint of controversy to say that Desplat’s score is excellent.  How refreshing it is to see a credit for a young composer reading “composed, orchestrated and conducted by…” – of course that only hints that we might be seeing an emerging talent able to actually write music for films instead of just sonic wallpaper, but a quick listen to the disc confirms it.  The “Prologue” sets the scene very nicely, with a pulsing wind figure bringing to mind some of Michael Nyman’s film work, and then a lush, very beautiful theme emerges which is certainly satisfying.  But while there are certainly sweepingly romantic moments, the overall mood of the score is more tragic, haunting almost (and I appreciate that “haunting” is the most overused, abused and ultimately banal adjective when it comes to describing film music but its use is warranted here).  “The Wedding” is a standout piece, brilliantly dark and involving; the later “Elegy” incredibly moving.

Alexandre Desplat

The score’s warmer moments contrast nicely with those more tragic ones: “The Engagement” introduces an engaging (if you pardon the pun) theme which is later developed in “Birth Waltz”; and there’s a childlike lullaby which opens “Letter”, though this does give way to much darker material.  Underlying almost everything, though, is a pulsing, deep bass note; it is so subtle as to be barely noticeable, but it has a hypnotic effect, brilliantly adding an underlying tension to the music.  It’s such a good device I’m surprised nobody thought of it before – but I’m sure it will be used again!

It is excellent to hear such intelligent, modern orchestral music being written for a film because it seems to happen with less and less frequency as time goes by.  This is the sort of challenging music that Elliot Goldenthal might write, but Desplat has a far lighter touch and fills the score with enough attractive melody that it should appeal to a wide range of listeners, on several different levels.  He is clearly a composer on the rise, which is heartening to say the least.  ****

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