- Composed by Ennio Morricone
- Music Box Records / 2014 / 51m
I realise that not everyone can be multilingual. Some people travel through life without ever leaving their home town, let alone their country, so it is easy to forgive them for not expanding their horizons by learning a foreign tongue. Indeed, frequently on my international travels – as I converse with the locals as if I am a native myself – I witness people from English-speaking countries make not even a slight effort to defer to their generous hosts, simply expecting them to respond in English. Increasingly, these people manage to get by seemingly without considerable difficulty. So even if the practical benefit is not what it once was, the cultural benefit is incalculable – there is no way to appreciate a Spanish poem from the Moorish period in all its glory if one reads a limp English translation. Another great benefit to being a master of so many languages is that I know when I purchase the soundtrack album to a foreign-language film, exactly what I’m getting. Decades of schooling in the language of my nation’s great friends from across the English Channel now allow me to translate Le Profesionnel – in English it approximates to The Professional.
The film was released in France in 1981. Directed by Georges Lautner, it stars Jean-Paul Belmondo as a French secret agent looking to assassinate the leader of a former African colony following a botched attempt on his life several years earlier. One of the great number of sub-categories in Ennio Morricone’s vast filmography is the group of French thrillers starring Belmondo he scored – this one followed Le Casse and Peur Sur La Ville and Le Marginal was still to come. While the music he wrote is nothing short of brilliant, Morricone’s experience on the film was not a happy one at all.
One of the unlikeliest chart hits of all time, a track the composer wrote in 1971 for an obscure film called Maddalena, “Chi Mai”, was released as a single around the time Le Professionnel was being made (ten years later) having been used as the theme for a British tv series and it managed to reach number two in the British singles chart and number one in France. So enamoured were the filmmakers by the piece that it ended up being tracked in all the way through the film, with barely five minutes of Morricone’s original score remaining. Fortunately, a half-hour soundtrack featuring the composer’s original intentions for the score (along with a recording of “Chi Mai”) was issued at the time; an expanded version first arrived on CD in 2002 on the GDM label and that has now been resequenced and remastered by Music Box Records.
The star of the show is the phenomenal main theme, “Le vent, le cri” – it’s a clear relative of “Chi Mai” with its shimmering strings and hypnotic time signature, but it goes off in its own direction (with a certain baroque element) and I think deserves to be just as famous. Truly compelling, it is a track I could listen to again and again – which is rather fortunate because it appears almost endlessly on this album, which features no fewer than 15 tracks entitled “Le vent, le cri”. They are sufficiently different from each other that I don’t lose interest (though perhaps others might) – it’s fascinating to hear Morricone putting the same melody through so many variations, some of which are very different from each other. I particularly like the more suspenseful variants with the trademark piano run constantly coming in and out, though none of them can beat the dynamite version which opens the album (and was specifically recorded for that purpose).
The main secondary theme is called alternately “Bach” and “Le Retour” and features the B-A-C-H progression made so famous by the composer who bore its name. It’s a gripping theme, suspenseful but melodic, very effective, again thrown through a number of variations which all have their own flavours. There’s also “D’Afrique”, a much darker piece of suspense music, nowhere near as striking but providing a nice fresh interlude a couple of times. Finally, the album does feature a (slightly synthy) recording of “Chi Mai” to close, a piece which never loses its appeal.
The best way of appreciating this score is probably not really in the sequence offered here – there are just so many versions of the same theme. But even I, someone forever complaining about such things, don’t get even slightly bored with it despite the frequency of its appearance – it’s just such an incredible piece of music, fascinating compositionally and utterly gripping dramatically. Le Professionnel is an absolutely classic Morricone score which every fan of the composer should have in his or her collection.