Archive for the 'Movie tie-in' Category

Declaration of War: The music behind the movie

Declaration of War may not have secured an Oscar nomination, but it’s easy to see why it was France’s official entry in the foreign language category. The movie, directed by one of its stars, Valérie Donzelli, tells the story of a young couple, Juliet and Roméo (no, the coincidence does not go unoted) who meet, run away together, and, after a whirlwind romance soon find themselves with a baby boy. But it’s not long before things start to turn. Little Adam cries for weeks on end, has not yet learned to walk (at 18 months), and has taken to vomiting. Often.

Given its grim subject matter, Declaration of War could have easily slipped into a tired formula. But instead, its honest depiction of hardship and its inventive shots and sound editing make it one of the most interesting and compelling films I’ve seen in some time.

Take a look at the trailer:

The movie is a curious interplay opposing forces. No doubt some scenes will be controversial. One minute, the young couple is spending the night with their sick son at the hospital and the next, they’re making out with other people and partying. But it’s the tension between these binaries that makes the film feel real and amazingly honest. This is what life is – a constant push and pull: tragedy and comedy; love and war; chaos and order; chance and destiny (“Does this mean we’ll have a love story with a tragic ending?” Roméo jokingly whispers into Juliet’s ear when they meet at a party).

And the soundtrack is just as intriguing as its characters. LOUD, thumping club music sets the stage for Roméo and Juliet’s first meeting… cut to the hospital where heavy classical music sets the tone. Each time music is invoked, it demands to be heard and acknowledged – as if were a principle character as well. That weird experimental song in the trailer? It’s Laurie Anderson’s “Superman,” from 1981, and it’s a perfect fit. Heck, there’s even an odd musical sequence sung by the two stars sing themselves. (This is a French movie we’re talking about.)

Again and again, the music makes the film. In what I found to be the most memorable and affecting scene in the movie, Juliet has just learned about her son’s horrible diagnosis from a doctor. And suddenly, the regular sound of the hospital is replaced by a glitchy, pulsating beat the slowly builds and eventually erupts as Juliet sprints down the florescent lit hospital halls and eventually collapses on the shiny linoleum floor. (See 0:45-0:47 in the trailer.)

After I saw the movie, I learned that not only are (or is it were?) Valérie Donzelli and Jérémy Elkaïm a real-life couple… the story the movie depicts was first theirs. Their pain, their struggle, and ultimately, their triumph.




The story behind the soundtrack: Drive

Last Wednesday, I saw a sneak peak of the new Nicolas Winding Refn film, Drive. Head-rush inducing chase scenes, graphic violence, Carey Mulligan + Ryan Gosling love connection? You got ’em – all in a terse 100 minutes.

Though the relationship the movie hinges on is a bit unbelievable (seriously, Carey Mulligan? Gosling is hot, but CAN YOU NOT SEE WHAT A TOTAL LUNATIC HE IS? I mean that satin scorpion jacket alone should clue you in.), there’s no denying the film’s perverse beauty: from the stylized violence to the hypnotic retro techno/pop soundtrack.

Here’s “A Real Hero” by College, one of the soundtrack’s major songs:

After the applause during the credits died down at my screening, I was fortunate enough to hear a Q&A with Refn. The story he told about the film’s background was fascinating. Apparently, Universal came to him with a script for a movie called The Driver. (Not the same movie that ultimately got made.) They were hoping Harrison Ford would be in the title role, but after reading the script, he decided to ditch the project because he “didn’t want to die at the end.”

So Refn met with Gosling. Only their dinner date got cut short since Refn was on some crazy antibiotics that made him “as high as a kite.” So in the middle of their meal, Refn asked Gosling to drive him home. To mask the awkwardness of the drive, Gosling turned on the radio, and REO Speedwagon began to play. Refn turned it up as loud as it would go and started screaming along. Then, it wasn’t long before he started weeping. All the while, Gosling looked straight ahead, his expression neutral.

After a few minutes of this, Refn yells, “I’ve got it! We’ll make a movie about a drive whose only emotional release is pop music!” Gosling pauses a beat, turns to Refn, and simply says, “Cool,” and that’s that. Refn turned Universal loose, re-imagined the script, and made it his own.

“Rock music didn’t suit the movie I was making,” says Refn. “I wanted to make a fairy tale, which is all about truth and purity, but the subtext is violence.”

“[Driver] is half man, half machine,” says Refn. “But the machinery, his car, is an antique. Late ’70s bands like Kraftwerk inspired my idea of making a movie where the score was electronic, but at an infant stage — crude in its technology, yet extremely poetic.” (1)

(1) From an interview with Refn in Spin. (Refn said the same at the Q&A.)

"He considered music a liberating force: it liberated him from loneliness, introversion, the dust of the library; it opened the door of his body and allowed his soul to step out into the world to make friends."

- Milan Kundera's The Unbearable Lightness of Being