French composer Alexandre Desplat, the sole focus of this weeks Weekly Roundup, has long been moving us with his scores, whether it's by way of intensity or beauty, it's difficult not to succumb to his spell. His work on the recently released The Light Between Oceans, which brought this focus to the forefront, ranks up there with some of his best work; I haven't been able to go a day without putting it on since seeing the film!
For those unfamiliar with Desplat, here's the shortest backstory possible. He got his start back in 1985, and worked almost exclusively with European films, primarily French, for the better part of the next two decades, before composing the score for US produced Birth in 2004. Though he's dipped his toes into the Hollywood scene following Birth, all the glitz and glam (do people still say that?) hasn't seemed to lead him astray, as he still leans in the direction of European cinema.
He's been nominated for eight Academy Awards since 2007, finally winning in 2015 for The Grand Budapest Hotel (he received a nomination for The Imitation Game that year as well). His consistency and unique style has landed him a go-to reputation, putting him in an elite group of composers working today. Year after year he continues to amaze, and with upcoming films like Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Wes Anderson's upcoming yet to be named film, Ewan McGregor's directional debut American Pastoral, and the new Polanski film Based on a True Story, he's showing no signs of slowing down.
I mentioned that The Light Between Oceans holds it's rank among my favorites when it comes to his works, and though I believe he can do no wrong, I'd like to shed light on my five favorite scores (and two honorable mentions) composed by Monsieur Desplat.
(1) Honorable Mention: Girl with a Pearl Earring (2003)
I'm a sucker for a period piece, when done right it leads me to a place of bliss few other films can. I credit that, in large part, to the music that generally accompanies it. While Girl with a Pearl Earring was a fine film, it was ultimately forgettable for me, however, the score had quite a different impact. Sweeping, mystic, sublte; it's been over a decade since I first heard it and it's stayed with me all this time.
Unfortunately the score in its entirety isn't available for streaming, but "Griet's Theme," which is probably the best representation of the score, has been covered numerous times. Here's one of those recordings...
Honorable Mention (2): The Painted Veil (2006)
Accompanied by renowned pianist Lang Lang and celebrated cellist Vincent Ségal, Desplat creates a lasting impression with his beautiful but uneven score. A film clouded with heartbreak and desperation, the music is equal parts tragic and gorgeous. The Painted Veil follows a doctor and his wife, who uproot due in part to her infidelity, as they move to China to help with the cholera outbreak as well as try to piece together the loveless marriage they find themselves trapped in.
Filled with gorgeous imagery at the hands of DP Stuart Dryburgh (who's fairly hit or miss) and director John Curran, it's easy to find the light in the often melancholy atmosphere when focusing on the lush audio/visual aspects.
I chose "River Waltz," as the scores representative, as it conveys both the the serenity and seriousness of the films score.
5. The Upside of Anger (2005)
With the beautiful and sweeping scores Desplat has used his expertise crafting, it seems odd that one of my five favorites would be from a romantic dramedy, but maybe that's why his work here is so appealing, because it surprised me.
This is easily his most lighthearted and whimsical score, combining joyous melodies with sweeping strings, and often utilizing all the instruments at his disposal. The Upside of Anger has an ease that some of his more calculated orchestrations don't carry, making for a relaxed listen.
Here's my favorite melody, the short and sweet "Second Rendez-vous" and a screenshot of Keri Russell from the film because, like the score, her beauty is eternal.
4. The Ghost Writer (2010)
Many passed over this spectacular (and severely underrated) 2010 film, which is not to be confused or associated with in any way, shape or form the Nicky Cage led Ghost Rider films. Directed by Roman Polanski following a five year absence from film (or eight year absence if you don't count the subpar 2005 Oliver Twist remake), it follows a ghost writer, hired to script the memoirs of a former British prime minister, but ends up uncovering information that might put him in danger. Hilarity ensues! Kidding, this film has very little humor. Seriously though, watch this movie, it's excellent.
The music is intense and edgy, and the air of mystery is in full effect, consuming the listener. All of this is portrayed efficiently in "Travel To The Island." For the softer side of the score listen to the following track, "Lang's Memoirs."
3. The Light Between Oceans (2016)
The reason this post even exists has finally arrived. My heart is easily captured by beautiful visuals accompanied by beautiful music. It's calming and therapeutic, meaning as long as my eyes and ears are working properly I will enjoy a peaceful existence. If these both fail me (the HK special) THEN I'll consider dating. But until that time, it's music and a view that will hold my hand.
This score, I believe, is his most beautiful to date, which is saying something. Just as the characters weave in and out of complex emotions so does Desplat's music, adding depth and heart to every scene it accompanies. It was wonderful to both hear and see this film on the big screen, and I suggest you do so while it's still available.
Here's the title track to the film, which plays a bit lighter than most of the score, but is a reflection of what the film ultimately brought, a theme built with love and grace.
2. The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)
Amidst all the seriousness comes the score for Wes Anderson's The Grand Budapest Hotel, a melodic and unique adventure in music, and one unlike any of his other scores. Even during the films 'serious' moments, the music is so deliberate and overbearing that you can't help but recognize the comedy in the context. The fact that he can still make satisfying orchestrations within that subtext is nothing short of genius and speaks to his skill.
Here is "Mr. Moustafa," a track that I think encapsulates the feel of the score. I like the romantic tones, simplistic and effective; it's a theme that defines an endearing and complicated character.
Much to my enjoyment, Desplat seems to have replaced Anderson's previous go-to composer Mark Mothersbaugh (he worked on Anderson's first four films), and with great success. Taking over starting with Fantastic Mr. Fox, his folky and cartoonish score was one of the films many bright spots. Additionally, his work on Moonrise Kingdom was just as solid, though the score there was used to less effect.
1. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)
Producing that feeling of mysticism, that sense of curiosity, whether innocent or sinister, is a theme largely present in all of Desplat's scores, but it is never stronger than in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, reflecting the mystery of the film it complements. Together, with David Fincher, one of favorite directors, they capture a tone and harmony we only get to experience a few times each year.
With it's wondrous opening track, "Postcards" (which I spoke about in my Top 10 Single Tracks from Film Scores), his orchestrations draw you in calmly, and before you know it you're floating away. The entire score is beautiful, and my favorite of Desplat's extensive and brilliant body of work.