Film Music Review
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Film Music Review (Volumes 1-7)






Music by Alexandre Desplat

24 Tracks (Playing Time = 60:08)


Music composed, orchestrated, conducted, and produced by Alexandre Desplat.

Additional orchestrations by Jean-Pascal Beintus. Also featuring Alain Planes, piano; and the Traffic Quintet. Score recorded and mixed by Andrew Dudman at Studio Davout, Paris. Art direction and design by Gloo Design.

Decca B0009910-02

Rating: ****


1. Lust, Caution (1:07)
2. Dinner Waltz (1:52)
3. Falling Rain (1:13)
4. Brahms Intermezzo in A Major, Op. 118, No. 2 - Alan Planes, piano (6:12)
5. Streets of Shangai (3:01)
6. Playacting (2:45)
7. Tsim Sha Tsui Stroll (1:45}
8. Exodus (1:37)
9. Moonlight Drive (3:06)
10. Shanghai 1942 (2:29)
11. The End of Innocence (2:30)
12. Sacrifice (4:19)
13. Remember Everything (2:12)
14. Check Point (1:05)
15. The Secret (1:33)
16. Nanjing Road (3:06)
17. On The Street (1:36)
18. The Angel (2:21)
19. The South Quarry (2:17)
20. An Empty Bed (1:57)
21. Dinner Waltz (Traffic Quintet) (2:00)
22. Wong Chia Chi's Theme (3:45)

Bonus tracks:
1. Seduction (1:40)
2. Desire (4:26)


There will likely be a few newer scores appearing here for review. And we kick off appropriately with one of my favorite newer musical voices, Alexandre Desplat.

This score is for the highly-anticipated Ang Lee film LUST, CAUTION. The WWII-era film, set in Shanghai, is a film of political intrigue and dangerous romance set against the Japanese occupation. Even the cover photo for the CD booklet gives the impression of a film noir, but unlike the updated settings used say by Kurosawa in the 1950s. The colors suggest a more nostalgic and filtered view of the period, though the evidently graphic violence and sex scenes have slapped an NC-17 rating to the film. It did win the Golden Lion (for Lee) and the Golden Osella (for cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto) at this year’s Venice Film Festival. It also appeared at the Toronto Film Festival in September before receiving a limited US release at the end of the month.

The disc opens with a title track that briefly evokes a noirish atmosphere (a sound that recurs to flavor the score, deliciously so in “The South Quarry”). In fact, some of the scoring and musical gestures at times feel almost like a contemporary Vertigo. Desplat’s penchant for writing beautifully captivating waltzes continues in this score as well with the following “Dinner Waltz” a piece for piano (performed by Alain Planes) and string quintet. There is plenty here to admire: richly-scored ostinatos, those celeste and bell sounds that seem to be a Desplat fingerprint, and tuneful melodic ideas that we hear deconstructed and varied throughout the body of the score. In fact, a lot of what is here sounds a great deal like A GIRL WITH A PEARL EARRING except for the fact that Desplat has captured a more 1940s style and blended it with some of the picturesque period music from last year’s THE PAINTED VEIL.

What always fascinates me about Desplat’s music is the way he introduces little motifs and thematic threads against ostinato patterns. The music is often harmonically dense and then spreads either into an amazingly bright churning musical idea, or slides into a dark, neoromantic musical sound. “Streets of Shanghai” tends to do the latter as does most of the score, with moments when one thinks there will be a sign of hope (like in the beginning of “Nanjing Road”) but the light does not shine long even as we sense that things could go differently, as in the beautifully poignant “The Angel.” The “Dinner Waltz” provides one of several anchors to the score as it progresses as does a beautifully written and played (by Dominique Lemonnier) solo violin line which floats in and around the dark textures. There are moments when glimmers of light seem tantalizingly close, but the music often sinks back into a sad melancholic sound. By “An Empty Bed” the theme has begun to take on aspects of the film noir underscoring, a bit more chromatic in its orchestral accompaniment, but still maintains an almost chilling beauty.

What will attract many to the music is the way it moves delicately between its engaging thematic elements, none of which try hard to be Asian as say Doyle’s were in AS YOU LIKE IT (which was set in Japan) or 2005’s MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA. Certain gestures in the music provide suggestions of the setting without overpowering you with the obvious. There are many moments that remind one of John Williams’ music (a theme here sounds at times like a variation from PRESUMED INNOCENT), but it is a decidedly different, and strong musical voice that weaves the character’s motivations and actions perfectly into the musical fabric of the score. It would be hard to imagine Lust, Caution being omitted from favorite scores of the year, and it would be equally surprising if it is not remembered come nominating time. As a listening experience on its own, it is quite engrossing as one is constantly enthralled at the subtlety in scoring Desplat employs and as usual, with his themes. This is all summed up in “Wong Chia Chi’s Theme” which contains many of the threads and motifs heard earlier in the score. The disc concludes with 2 “bonus” tracks depicting “Seduction” (a haunting noirish track) and “Desire” respectively.

Planes also is featured in a performance of the Brahms “Intermezzo in A, Op. 118, no. 2” in a fittingly nuanced performance. The bass end of the score is extremely accentuated in this recording, not distractingly slow, but you will know if your subwoofer is working!


--Steven A. Kennedy, 29 September 2007

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