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Black Robe
  • Composed by Georges Delerue

A sort of cross between The Mission and Dances With Wolves, Bruce Beresford’s Black Robe follows a Jesuit missionary trekking across hundreds of miles of 17th century Canadian wilderness in an attempt to found a mission and do what he saw as the good work. Receiving much critical acclaim at the time of its release, particularly in Canada, the film struggled to find much of an audience internationally and has very little profile today, three decades on.

Black Robe was the fourth of five movies Beresford did with the great composer Georges Delerue, and of all of them it offered the composer the broadest palette on which to paint his gloriously colourful music. Delerue loved an historical drama – one with a scope as big as this one and landscapes as big as this one, all the better. Having said that – as ever it was internal emotions he was most interested in scoring rather than going sightseeing – and the result was a really rich and rewarding work.

Georges Delerue

Three primary themes are presented in succession in the opening three cues. The first, for the main title, has a slightly dark twinge to start with and an almost plaintive, primitive feel as it develops – but it goes without saying that it’s beautiful. Next is “Daniel and Annuka”, in which a lilting melody is heard first for an ancient flute before being taken up by oboe – it’s got a folk music quality to it, certainly paying respect to the era in which the film is set. “The Journey Begins” marks the first time the score swells beyond chamber proportions, this theme feeling like an extension/offshoot of the second.

Action arrives in “Daniel Rescues La Forgue” – the score doesn’t have a whole heap of it but it’s always impressive when it arrives. It’s centred around brutal, aggressive percussion and is furiously exciting. Only Georges Delerue could generate so much colour from such a basic setting. He returns to the style later in “The Iroquois Attack”, adding some harsh brass which leads to an even more intense feel. There’s some fine suspense music, too – on the surface perhaps not that much seems to be happening in “Lost in Forest” but there’s so much going on in there underneath, a succession of little textural flourishes which cleverly create subtle emotional shifts.

In “The Natives Abandon La Forgue” there is so much tension – at first Delerue uses the strings to give a bit of a requiem feel before stepping into more dissonant territory as the piece moves on. “The Escape” is not a thrilling adventure cue as its name may imply, but rather a tender and exquisitely beautiful piece of understated drama. However, for the score’s real pièce de résistance you have to stay until the very end, for “Libera Me”, a stunning aria sung by boy soprano – deeply, profoundly moving and heavenly, it’s a splendid way for the album to end.

Black Robe is a deep and rich score. Because it has such a personal feel it rarely sounds “epic” as such, but it is not short on scope. While he did a parade of romantic comedies in the last decade or so of his career, Delerue was so prolific that he squeezed in various more serious dramas amongst them and the results were rarely anything other than hugely satisfying. There’s a lot packed into this brief album, more than enough to satisfy any fan of the wonderful composer.

Rating: **** 1/2 | |

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  1. Andre>>Cape Town (Reply) on Wednesday 15 September, 2021 at 00:43

    I’ve got a lot of catching up to do James…you’re back,at last, with lots of reviews that I’m starting to read. I was intrigued by this film…the hardships the young missionary encounters amongst the Canadian Ethnics is horrific, and his spiritual struggle when his sexuality is aroused (forbidden by the vows he’s taken as a Catholic priest) is torturous for him to resolve. DELERUE’S music, with its Renaissance structure is loaded with beauty and emotion. As the young priest boards the craft to commence his journey, the camera pulls back revealing the wondrous and pristine Canadian wilderness…mountains, lakes and the bluest sky,and DELERUE introduces a theme that ignites one’s soul with its spiritual undertone. “Libera Me, Domine” is a magnificent requiem for the dead, beautifully sung by BOY TREBLE and Chorus (‘Boy Soprano’ is now regarded as insulting!) It competes with GOLDSMITH’S “Kadish for the Six Million” as one of the most heartfelt hymns for those who have passed on.