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Artwork copyright (c) 2004 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.; review copyright (c) 2005 James Southall



Moving, sombre portrait of the first world war


An eclectic composer if ever there was one, Angelo Badalamenti has scored quite a lot of films, though (and I found this surprising) didn't become especially prolific until the 1990s, when he was already well into his fifties, and isn't Italian but American.  He will forever best be known for Twin Peaks and his other works for David Lynch, which is where the eclecticism is most notable, but being a middle-of-the-road sort of guy I've always found him to be at his best when writing rich orchestral music like the "Lynch-lite" The Straight Story, sections of The Beach and now his latest effort, A Very Long Engagement.

The movie is director Jean-Pierre Jeunet's follow-up to the acclaimed Amelie, which featured a popular score (though something of an acquired taste) by Yann Tierson; again the director has cast Audrey Tautou in the lead role, but the movie could hardly be more different, as this time she plays a young French woman who spends a long time searching for her missing fiancÚ, who has disappeared during the Battle of the Somme during the first world war.  It has attracted much critical praise, though whether it will manage to recoup its enormous budget (well, enormous by French movie standards, estimated to be $55m) remains to be seen.

Badalamenti's music is stirring and excellent.  Certainly it is the most "traditional" score he has written for a high-profile movie, being almost entirely orchestral with only a synth choir occasionally adding some atmosphere.  It is a powerful work - sombre and reverent, but not enough to turn it into a dirge.  The opening cue, "The Trenches", is incredibly downbeat, with a sorrowful trumpet solo playing over a wash of strings and winds.  40 minutes of that style, while impressive, wouldn't make for the greatest of albums, but fortunately Badalementi mixes things about enough to stop that from happening.  While the tone is rarely anything other than mournful, at times there is real beauty to be found, especially in the beautiful "Heartbeat to a Gunshot" and "Mathilde's Theme".  Badalamenti mercifully avoids the overplayed sentiment that one suspects a more mainstream Hollywood composer would have brought, but that is not to say that he doesn't employ a large string section which swells up and provides sweeping accompaniment from time to time - somehow it all still sounds appropriately restrained and dignified and the composer is to be congratulated for that.

The seven-minute end title track is probably the highlight of the album, offering a good summary of what has gone before.  Indeed, coupled with what has gone before, this is an impressive and moving album of music from a composer who is one of the few left who genuinely surprises the listener on a regular basis.  The album is on Nonesuch and I can't fail to mention the truly beautiful booklet - there are no liner notes but some stunning photography - a textbook example of how a record company should approach this sort of project.  Highly impressive stuff.

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  1. The Trenches (4:54)
  2. First Love Touch (3:55)
  3. Heartbeat to a Gunshot (4:28)
  4. Mathilde's Theme (4:19)
  5. Secret Code (5:01)
  6. Elodie's Theme (2:44)
  7. Kissing Through Glass (2:07)
  8. Massage Fantasy (2:24)
  9. Never Had the Child (2:24)
  10. The Man from Corsica (2:42)
  11. Our Soldiers' Letters (2:44)
  12. Why Do You Cry? (2:18)
  13. End Titles (6:51)