Review by Brad Green:
A mixed reputation precedes this WWII drama’s release in Australia. However, while the film as a whole has divided opinion, the Australian contingent of Cate Blanchett as the protagonist parachuting into Vichy France to track down her lover, and Gillian Armstrong as director, have won nothing but glowing reports. I guess we’ll have to wait for Cate and Co. to land in Australia, but with the soundtrack having already dropped onto my desk, I can only assume that for those unimpressed by the cinematic experience, the screenplay must fail on all fronts. Stephen Warbeck’s score is certainly up to his towering standard, and you would have to think that successful star turn, successful directing and successful soundtrack would be a pretty solid foundation.
Anyway, to focus on the music, this is a more conservative offering from Warbeck than his Quills or Captain Corelli’s Mandolin scores of the past couple of years, both of which inspired veritable encomiums from the demanding critic currently typing this review. It has none of the innovation of Quills (hardly to be expected of a war romance) and little of the orchestral density of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, yet is a fine achievement in its own right.
It opens with a staccato pulse – a little like a Michael Nyman figure converted to a ternary time signature – that is soon overlaid with an achingly romantic theme. This is played by violin soloist Dermot Grehan, who infuses the melodic contour with lilting grace notes and vibrato redolent of sweet-reeded bagpipes (Blanchett’s heroine being a Scottish lass). From this seductive beginning a restrained score flows, crossing the ambient, mood-defining territory that, when detached from moving pictures, sometimes restricts a soundtrack’s entertainment value. In this case, however, it remains eminently listenable through sheer craftsmanship in both composition and performance.
Lush strings are the bedding of a modest ensemble, which substitutes the might of symphonic arrangements with the delicacy of intimate tonalities. Guitar arpeggios underline long legato woodwind lines, and occasionally expand into gentle scales of their own, while the clean, bright timbre of Eleanor Alberga’s (often scarcely accompanied) piano is simply rapturous – neither too sharp or woollen, and performed with gentle authority.
The score’s understated romanticism is particularly appealing, leaning more to the reflective and poignant than the suspenseful or sentimental. The atmosphere thickens at every cue, and touches of drama do periodically emerge, such as the combined timpani and snare rolls of the track entitled The Gendarmes.
Although his Captain Corelli’s Mandolin soundtrack provides easier melodic pickings, Warbeck has crafted a superbly refined score here. Nor does it lack for entertainment value; it is simply a subtler joy for a different mood.
Published May 30, 2002