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Strangely in Love
  • Composed by Austin Wintory
  • T-65b Records / 2016 / 50m

Written and directed by Amin Matalqa, Strangely in Love is an adaptation of Dostoyevsky’s 1848 short story White Nights.  It’s a somewhat sombre story which has been turned into film around a dozen times previously (most famously by Luchino Visconti) but in Matalqa’s hands it takes on a new life as a whimsical romantic comedy, at times consciously Chaplinesque.  A socially awkward young man falls in love with a blind woman, but the trouble is she’s in love with someone else and he ends up helping her try to find him.  The film was shown at festivals as far back as 2014 and has just been released digitally.

With some degree of inspiration from the great silent comedies, music was always going to play a big part – and read the reviews of the film, it obviously does.  The music in question is by Matalqa’s regular composer (and great friend) Austin Wintory, most famous for his great video game music but he’s done a number of film scores too (and the one that really brought him to a lot of people’s attention was Captain Abu Raed, a 2008 movie by the same director).

Austin Wintory

Austin Wintory

The score opens with its delightfully sunny main theme in “The Underground Man”, a lovely melody for solo harmonica played by Hermine Duerloo with a small ensemble providing accompaniment.  It’s got that light, airy vibe that more usually has its home in European cinema, effortlessly romantic and engaging.  The first signs of slapstick come in the following “Nastenka”, which flits between styles without losing its identity, and the strings swell for the first time.

The music that follows is sublimely beautiful, the harmonica featuring prominently throughout along with guitar (Scott Tennant) and harp (Charissa Berger).  It’s not all happiness by any means – there’s also a sadness here (the resigned sound in the middle of “I Tend to Fall in Love from a Distance” so perfectly judged) and a few notes of suspense – but there is a lightness of touch throughout which is really the key to the music’s appeal and so many moments which are plain fun, particularly the various tangos which are as great as tangos always are.

I love in particular “Letters from Africa”, in which the tribal percussion brilliantly goes off and launches into a tango.  The smooth romance of “First Date” with a clarinet solo dancing around the guitar has a comedic warmth to it which is just so appealing.  There are some more modern sequences too, some of which have a very pleasing strangeness – “Sister Sarah” features some modern action/suspense which ends up going off in a very surprising direction, later “I Love Dostoyevsky” has a slight black comedy feel but again the loneliness is felt.  But then all that’s forgotten in the wonderful “Nastenka is my Special Girl” which leads to the heart-warming concluding trio of cues, “New Beginnings” and “I’m on my Journey” and then a song by the band The Controversy, “A Simple Love”.

While the ensemble may have been small for budgetary reasons (a handful of soloists plus strings recorded in Macedonia), as is often the case in the hands of a talented composer this gives the music even more heart.  The melodies are warm and heartfelt, the mood persistently upbeat and positive even during the few darker moments.  It’s a delightful album, one which will appeal to anyone who loves film music with the kind of easy-going charm of Luis Bacalov’s Il Postino (or more recently, perhaps Rolfe Kent’s Sideways).  It treads that fine line between comedy and romance and ends up as the best of both worlds.

Rating: **** | |

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  1. Jonathan Ammon (Reply) on Monday 22 February, 2016 at 18:52

    Whoa, I did not love this one nearly as much as you. Maybe I should give it a second chance. I’m not a fan of comedy scores or the instrumentation, so this one is difficult for me.