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Colette
  • Composed by Atli Örvarsson
  • MovieScore Media / 2013 / 43m

Based on renowned Czech author Arnošt Lustig’s “A Girl from Antwerp”, Colette is a new Czech/Slovak film about the horrors of the holocaust, looking in particular at the surprising blossoming of love against the evil backdrop of Auschwitz, and several escape attempts.  A quick internet search suggests the film is yet to be released anywhere and I can’t even find mention of any future release dates, but I’m sure that will come soon.  (Remember that if you’re reading this review in say 2321 then the information I just provided will not necessarily be up to date.)

I’m not sure how it came about, but director Milan Ciesler attracted a Hollywood-based composer to provide the score, in the form of Atli Örvarsson, part of Hans Zimmer’s team at Remote Control.  His music (at least, that which I’ve experienced) has in the past been wildly variable, ranging from dull and clichéd Remote Control thriller music to a couple of more popular entertaining romps (most recently on The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones).  Whenever I’ve been critical of his music, people have assured me that he’s a very capable composer; well, all it takes now to confirm that claim is a listen to the very impressive Colette, by far the best music I’ve heard from him to date.

Atli Örvarsson

Atli Örvarsson

The music is classically symphonic – it could hardly be anything but, given the subject matter – and betrays not even the vaguest hint of Örvarsson’s Remote Control background.  The album opens with the outstanding main theme, which is of course rather subdued and always respectful, but has an unmistakable hint of hope and of romance running through it.  This is explored further in the second track “The Diamond”, the melody heard in somewhat strained form in an oboe solo, then various sections of the orchestra play off each other as a very sincere portrait of anguish emerges.

The music isn’t always subdued – “Workshop of Evil” is the first of several up-front, forceful pieces of what could be termed “action” music; brass and percussion are strident, a theme of sorts emerges that is dynamic and memorable.  But even though it’s a surprise to hear such music in the score for a film like this, it never feels even remotely out of place; the contrast between that piece and the following “Merci Mon Amour”, which is elegiac and beautiful but full of an extraordinary suffering, is great – but seems to flow perfectly natural.

At times Örvarsson provides a more overt expression of horror – “Crematorium” is bleak, unsettling, very powerful.  This doesn’t ever make the album difficult to listen to – it is easy to appreciate the composer’s sincere music, which seems perfectly-judged, even when the atmosphere is more challenging.  ”Beautiful Brown Eyes” launches into an offshoot from the main theme, sorrowful yet beautiful.  ”Free as a Bird” sees the action material return, albeit this time in a somewhat disguised, more positive form; then there’s a very powerful rendition of the main theme for solo piano in “Praying for Willie”.

“Triangle of Love and Hate” again emphasises the contrasting emotions which dominate the score (as the track title suggests).  There is a sense of urgency about “Planning the Escape”, some excitement too.  This doesn’t last long – the music returns immediately to more mournful territory in “Kanada”, highlighted by an exquisite violin solo version of the main theme.  A profound sadness initially runs through “Change of Heart” – the strings may have a warm sound but there’s no doubting the chilling emotions underlying the first half of the piece – a chill that then melts away as the optimism and energy of “Planning the Escape” return as it progresses.  ”Cossacks to the Rescue” begins with a haunting passage, which explodes into an assault of horrors midway through; “The Escape” by contrast is exciting and energetic, and you can hear the tension gradually being released.

“Outside the Church” makes an extremely moving finale, restrained and yet undoubtedly very uplifting, before the album ends with a reprise of the beautiful main theme for the end titles.  Colette is very impressive, Örvarsson skilfully providing the requisite emotional support without his music becoming overwhelming or sentimental.  The performance of the Czech musicians is extremely passionate and adds the final touch to the excellent, highly moving music.  I recommend this without reservation.

Rating: ****

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  1. Gashoe13 on Saturday 14 September, 2013 at 01:43

    Orvarsson’s works have been picking up steam as of late! I will give this a listen. Great review.

  2. Anthony Aguilar on Saturday 14 September, 2013 at 05:13

    Good review and I concur on several fronts. It’s a near-masterful work from him. However, I don’t think the theme heard in the end credits and other places is the main theme. The tune heard in the opening (the main theme) is completely and totally different than the one heard for the end credits. They are actually two separate themes I think. What do you think?

  3. ANDRÉ - CAPE TOWN. on Sunday 15 September, 2013 at 16:36

    At last a review, James, that celebrates ÖRVARSSON’s musical gifts. I noticed you warming to this composer with his MORTAL INSTRUMENTS: CITY OF BONES score. I’m wary of suggesting that you now listen to THE EAGLE (the score that alerted me to his compositional talent) as it contains CELTIC music > a genré that you dislike [refer TINKERBELL review]. The emotional content between a Roman soldier and his slave, is musically very evident and beautiful in this drama set in the Scotland of 140 AD. Varèse Sarabande’s 4 CD “Chronicle of Great Film Music” features a 5′.34″ track from the S.F. Movie – BABYLON A.D. – a powerful chant incorporaing the Latin verses of the DIES IRAE & AGNUS DEI > it’s magnificent. Goldsmithian-type- chants, infused with incredible energy, are used to propel the evil forces in SEASON OF THE WITCH a film set in the Middle Ages – the score is still awaiting a CD release. I’m hoping that other composers at Remote Control will, like ÖRVARSSON, stop cloning their scores to that studio’s preferred musical style, and develop their own unique gifts & stylizations. Reviews such as yours, criticizing RC’s generic sound in most scores, will influence and inspire emerging musicians to dazzle us with incontestably great ORIGINAL scores in the future.