Review: Very Long Engagement, A
4 / 5 Stars
A Very Long Engagement is a film about a woman whose childhood friend and fiancÚ goes missing during the First World War and her search to find him. It is a story of hope, war, and love, and given these three themes, I was expecting the score to reflect a variety of styles: a love theme, some dramatic battle cues, and a climactic motif as the hopes are either fulfilled or forsaken. The music does not demonstrate such variegated elements, but fulfills my expectations nonetheless, in a manner more subtle and unified than I imagined.
Angelo Badalamenti's previous work is rather versatile, from the jazzy sound of "Twin Peaks" to the slower orchestral love themes of Blue Velvet and Mulholland Drive, to The Beach, which combines this flowing, orchestral love theme with an electronic, percussive style that reflects the few urban scenes of the film. With such extreme style changes between the orchestra and synthetic cues - reminiscent of Harry Gregson-Williams' Spy Game - I thought A Very Long Engagement might change styles between love and war. Rather than changing style, however, it only changes tone, which produces a more consistent score that requires a careful listen to determine from where in the movie each cue may have originated.
This singular style is rather serene, often dark, often slow, similar to Hans Zimmer's The Thin Red Line. The orchestration is characterized by complex chords in the strings, layered with moving string lines and scattered solos in the woodwinds. But the most notable characteristic is the French horn, which has solos throughout, while adding occasional sound color to the chords. The sound of a solo French horn can be used in many ways, including love themes and triumphant cues, but it is the sound of desolation that A Very Long Engagement best captures. John Williams' Saving Private Ryan utilized the solo horn to capture the feeling of desolation in war as eight soldiers walked across a war-torn Europe on a mission they doubted; this is the tone Badalamenti achieves here, best heard in "Main Title/The Trenches." It is clear that this instrumentation is used for the war scenes, as this desolate tone arises throughout, but the French horn does not disappear when the score turns to scenes outside the war; rather, the tone changes. The horn solos are accompanied by more of a background orchestration, which eases the desolate sound, and the string theme - "Matilde's Theme" - is lighter and takes a sightless elevated pace. Badalamenti used a solo French horn for the love theme in Blue Velvet, which shows the adaptability of this instrument's use.
In addition to the solitary French horn for the war cues, Badalamenti adds a solo trumpet and subtle snare drum rolls to give the tome a martial sound, and the chords tend to be heavier in the bass. when the tone changes to the love themes, or outside the war, the chords take on a sweeping quality as they blend with moving string lines and the French horn as an additional rather than solitary sound.
Overall, this score makes for a wonderful listen: serene as background music, but subtle and complex enough to keep you interested upon a closer listen. The style is consistent, but small changes in the instrumentation of the chords affects the tone of the music enough that the movie's themes of hope, war, and love are justly captured and represented.
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