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By Scott Bettencourt

In the next few weeks, French composer Alexandre Desplat will have two new Hollywood scores in CD stores -- Stephen Gaghan's Syriana and Lasse Hallstrom's Casanova -- so this seems like as good time as any to take an all-too-sketchy look at (most of) his soundtrack output so far.


Sony - 481106 2
18 tracks; 48:01

Sebastien Grall wrote and directed this Schindler's List-esque story of the commander (Jean-Pierre Marielle) of the French prison camp Les Milles, who tried to get his prisoners safely out of the country after the Nazi invasion. Desplat's orchestral score is somewhat reminiscent of the work of his fellow countryman, Philippe Sarde. The disc begins with the score's ironic, almost circus-like main theme, and overall the album is an entertaining romantic suspense-adventure score, though one four-note motif (heard in such cues as "Francais et allemands reunis" and "Le train dans le compagne") sounds distinctly like Bernard Herrmann's Cape Fear theme. The Sarde influence shows up especially in the cue "Le pont est mine," a tension-filled cue dominated by piano, drums and horns.


Milan - 53964-2
19 tracks; 36:56

This comedy about an astronaut's wife starred two actresses familiar from the films of Pedro Almodovar, Victoria Abril and Rossy de Palma. Overall, the album consists of light-hearted, delicate music with a Latin flavor, and Desplat co-wrote the peppy, Latin theme song "Aname." The cues "Separation reuisse" and "Retour de mission" have a slight John Barry feeling, while "Satellite perdu" is an urgent, percussive cue with a beat.

Sergeant Major Company - SMC 188052
25 tracks, 54:04

Director Jean-Paul Salome, whose other credits include Belphegor (scored by Bruno Coulais) and Arsene Lupin (Debbie Wiseman) helmed this French comedy, inspired by a true story, about a group of French tourists stranded in the American Southwest after the tour company goes bankrupt, and led by a tour guide who tries to keep up the pretense that nothing is wrong. Overall, the score has a folksy, country sound, with some cues featuring a thriller-ish overtone, and "L'accident" is a peppy, quasi-action cue featuring accordion and horns.


Milan - 67284-2
23 tracks, 51:47

An animated children's film about a young monkey who leaves his home in the treetops for the more "civilized" ape life on the ground. The French voice cast included Michel Lonsdale, while the British revoicing, titled A Monkey's Tale, featured John Hurt, Michael Gambon, Rik Mayall and Michael York as the king. The score overall is a mix of the serious and the lighthearted, with the adventurous "Kom et Gina au Chateau" a particular highlight. There are also a few songs co-written by Desplat, including one (gasp) rap song.


Universal - 549 051-2
16 tracks; 54:44

Philippe DeBroca directed this comedy adventure about the hunt for a possible UFO in the Amazon rain forest, starring Jean-Paul Belmondo and Arielle Dombasie. Overall, the score has a tropical flavor, with harmonica soloist Mauricio Einhorn receiving prominent billing on the cover. "Amazon (generique)" features a warm, orchestral theme, while "Salsa des etoiles" moves from a salsa to a more classical style. "L'homme de Cuba" features strong echoes of Silvestri's Predator, while "Les feuilles mortes" is a light jazzy piece which features a snippet of "Here Comes the Bride" on the harmonica.

Silva - SSD 1127
17 tracks, 56:06

Marleen Gorris (Antonia's Line, Mrs. Dalloway) directed this film based on Vladimir Nabokov's novel The Defense, with John Turturro as Luzhin, a high-strung chess master who falls for Emily Watson, a society woman. This was the first Desplat-scored film to receive both a CD release and a U.S. theatrical release, and it's a highly entertaining and varied orchestral score. The title theme is a swelling melody featuring piano and strings, while many cues feature the orchestral delicateness of such Williams scores as The Accidental Tourist and Stanley & Iris. The Luzhin score covers a wide range of styles and influences, with "Memories of Russia" featuring elements of minimalism, "The Dark Side of Chess" spotlighting unnerving strings, and "Luzhin Dreams" featuring emotional music reminiscent of Thomas Newman. The CD also features Shostakovich's Waltz No. 2 from Jazz Suite No. 2, which was used in Eyes Wide Shut and which may have been an influence on James Horner's Chumscrubber theme.


Play-Time - PL210663
15 tracks; 38:10

Benoit Poelvoorde (the serial killer from Man Bites Dog) stars in this comedy about a group of salesmen on the road. The disc overall is an eclectic mixture including a jaunty main theme, an original march, serious orchestral music, electric guitar, some original songs, and a fair amount of dialogue selections.

Delabel - 7243 8114322 3
18 tracks, 45:44

This comedy looks at the romantic entanglements of four characters over the course of one day. The score balances a variety of tones, from jaunty clarinet to a more classical sound, as well as a Gypsy-tinged song (composed by Georges Brassens but arranged by Desplat) which dominates the score.


Source - 724381223024
19 tracks; 53:12

Released on video in English-speaking countries as The Nest, this is a thriller in the Assault on Precinct 13 vein, featuring a French special forces team transporting a mobster who end up trapped in a warehouse with a group of thieves, all besieged by the mobster's squads of assassins. Though a couple of cues feature dialogue (the final moments of the disc feature a voice saying, in English, "You're all gonna die, understand? I'll kill you," which is a lovely way to end a CD) and the disc begins disconcertingly with a rap title song, overall this is an exciting orchestral thriller score with brooding suspense, Herrmannesque agitation, and fine action music (and personally, I don't mind dialogue cues quite as much when they're not in English).


Amelie Aime Le Cinema - AIM 00412
1 track; 17:26

This romantic drama about a dying woman trying to help her lover find a partner after she's gone sounds like a gender-switched remake of Dying Young. Desplat's score is largely somber, romantic orchestral music, and the only serious drawback is the CD's running time -- 17:26. It's great that a label is willing to release such a brief score, but at import prices it may not be enough music for the money for many collectors.

Lions Gate - LGR 008
20 tracks, 50:39

Scarlett Johanssen, Colin Firth, Tom Wilkinson and Cillian Murphy starred in this adaptation of Tracy Chevalier's novel, a fictional version of the creation of Vermeer's painting, and the film earned 3 Oscar nominations (and BAFTA and Golden Globe nominations for Desplat) and was the score which truly introduced Desplat to Hollywood (Goldsmith was reportedly also a fan). Desplat's orchestral score was one of the standout scores of 2003 (admittedly, a largely forgettable year for film music), balancing minimalist elements with a lovely main theme, and evoking the period without actually being an authentic period score. This is one of the must-haves of any Desplat collection.

Universal - 981628-1
16 tracks; 58:55

This psychological thriller was an adaptation of A Sight for Sore Eyes by the great British novelist Ruth Rendell, and starred Gregoire Colin (Olivier, Olivier, Beau Travail, Sex is Comedy) as a mentally disturbed artist. Desplat's suspense score is consistently unsettling, with echoes of Thomas Newman, The Sixth Sense and Seven.


BIRTH ****
New Line - NLR 39036
15 tracks; 43:05

Sexy Beast director Jonathan Glazer helmed this very odd film about a young widow (Nicole Kidman) who meets a little boy who claims to be the reincarnation of her late husband. The film garnered some minor controversy for a scene where Kidman and the boy share a bath (with no nudity, of course -- this isn't a French film), earned some raves from artier critics, and was overall pretty much ignored -- except for Desplat's music, the kind of daring, original score that usually gets thrown out by a timid studio in favor of something more familiar, and which earned the composer much deserved raves. The opening "Prologue" piece was arguably the standout cue of 2004, reminding one of everything film music can be, as Desplat gradually develops his main theme with lovely, classical orchestrations that suggest there's much more going on than what we're seeing on screen (in this case, a man jogging around Central Park -- Kidman's husband in his final moments). "The Engagement" features the main theme on solo piano while "Birth Waltz" arranges it as, of course, a waltz. Other cues featuring an unnerving droning sound, similar to an effect he uses in Syriana. The For Your Consideration CD circulating features only 30 minutes of the score, suggesting that some of the cues from the commercial CD weren't ultimately featured in the film, so the commercial disc is definitely the way to go.

Play Time - 3099512
17 tracks, 46:31

This action comedy reteamed the stars of the huge French hit Les Visiteurs (badly remade in English as Just Visiting), with Christian Clavier (who also co-wrote) as a detective trying to track down terrorist Jean Reno who falls for Reno's beautiful sister. Overall the score is Desplat's counterpart to Shearmur's Johnny English, a lightly comic pastiche of James Bond scores, especially of the David Arnold era, with a Bondian main theme and faux-Arnold action, while other cues have a warm, tropical feel and a relaxed, jazz quality.


Naive - ND 68527
DISC 2: 1 track; 23:47

Michel Audiard (for whom Desplat scored Read My Lips, which received a U.S. release but no score CD) directed this remake of James Toback's directorial debut Fingers, with Romain Duris (L'Auberge Espanole, Arsene Lupin) in the Harvey Keitel role of a hot tempered young man torn between his shady lifestyle and his potential as a classical pianist. The import CD is a two-disc set, the first disc featuring songs and classical pieces and the second consisting entirely of "De Battre Mon Coeur S'Est Arrete Suite Pour Cordes, Piano, Percussions," which presents what seems to be Desplat's complete score as one track, gradually developing a simple motif over the course of 23 minutes, played by strings, piano and percussion. It's an effectively restrained if not especially memorable score, though it's wonderful that a French label would be willing to present such a brief score in unadulterated form on CD.

Superb - GUTCD44
24 tracks, 61:34

Nid de Guepes' Florent Siri directed this enjoyably over-the-top thriller, Desplat's first true "Hollywood" film, in which Bruce Willis plays a small town cop (who fled the big city after a hostage incident cost a child's life) who is threatened with the murder of his family unless he retrieves a computer disc full of vital info from a house where another family is being held hostage by a trio of young criminals (in a refreshingly offbeat touch, the two main kidnappers are played by actors usually cast in sensitive youth roles -- Ben Foster from Six Feet Under and Jonathan Tucker from The Deep End). While Desplat's score is, like the film itself, a bit excessive, it makes a very enjoyable listening experience. The first cue, "Child's Spirit," introduces the main theme, performed spookily by a boy soloist, which is given a bigger scale rendition in the next cue, "Hostage," gradually building momentum before turning into an action cue. Despite the film's pulpiness, Desplat's score takes it very seriously (one critic accused the composer of scoring Hostage like it was Citizen Kane). The cues "Canyon Inn," "The Waterfal" and "The House" feature unexpectedly grand moments, "Crawl Space," "House on Fire" and "Talley's Plan" are exciting action pieces, and "Tommy's Theme" features a recorder solo evoking the innocence of the imperiled boy.

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