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Quai d’Orsay
  • Composed by Philippe Sarde
  • Quartet Records / 2013 / 32m

A satire set in the world of the French foreign ministry, Quai d’Orsay is the latest film from the acclaimed director Bertrand Tavernier and has received much acclaim in his homeland.  The director continues his collaboration with the equally acclaimed Philippe Sarde, still working regularly in France but rarely on films with much international profile.  His finely-honed music is classy and elegant; from the dance-like opening “Arrivée au Quai d’Orsay”, the composer is clearly approaching things with sardonic irony.  Then in “Le bureau d’Arthur” the orchestra is briefly interrupted by a didgeridoo – it’s actually very funny – and taken to a further extreme later on the album in “Arrivée à New York”.  Some strident brass lines summon images of a busy office and important work in “La routine”, a theme heard a few further times down the line.

Dashes of humour abound – the classical piano line of “Sandwich réflexion” is wonderful.  It seems to be taken as a given by most film composers that the best way of scoring comedy is with straight music – I suspect that’s because it’s actually really hard to write funny music that doesn’t end up sounding ridiculous.  By approaching Quai d’Orsay with his tongue firmly in his cheek, Sarde proves that you can do it the other way if you’re good enough – there’s an element of the Elmer Bernstein technique of so overstating the drama you make it funny (the über-dramatoc “Oubanga” is wonderful), but also a lot of deft musical touches which are delightful in themselves.  The score is very brief – about 23 minutes, the rest of the album being songs – but it packs quite a punch in that time and is the most distinctive and most impressive comedy score I’ve heard in a while.

Rating: **** | |

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