Music Before Anything Else

in 38th Moscow International Film Festival

by Jean-Max Méjean

The cinema needs music. It seems that the reverse is not true. Indeed, great composers for film such as Nino Rota, Ennio Morricone, Alexandre Desplat, John Williams and, of course, Bernard Hermann are proof of this, because often the films they composed music for, whether by Visconti , Fellini, Hitchcock or others, have not always found success. It’s something people might think of when attending screenings of films in competition at film festivals, and at the 38th Moscow International Film Festival in particular. There are films such as Son of Saul (Saul Fia), by the Hungarian László Nemes, which, after Cannes, rightly impressed audiences precisely because of its absence of music. That film was not in competition in Moscow, but in this section musicals flourished, be it the latest Woody Allen movie Café Society, presented out of competition, or Excentrycy, czyli po slonecznej stronie ulicy from the Polish Janusz Majewski. These two films in their own way—and this is often the case with Woody Allen—were dedicated to showcasing jazz. Indeed, the Polish film, if only for that reason, deserved praise, offering new interpretations of a famous song like “In the Mood.” Spectators like this kind of music, and that is why the Bulgarian Radoslav Spassov, awarded by the Main Jury, depicted the a little sad career—one not unlike that of Judy Garland—of iconic Bulgarian singer Lia Ivanova and of her coach and husband, the Armenian Edward Kazasyan. In Serbo-Croatian filmmaker Milos Radovic’s Train Driver’s Diary, which looks a bit like a tribute to Emir Kusturica, it was necessary that at some point, to give an Balkan atmosphere, a protagonist starts to play the accordion for no apparent reason. This is what might be called opportunistic additional music. There are films where music can be described as diegetic, and this is the case in French filmmaker Sébastien Betbeder’s  Mary and the Misfits, when the characters find themselves in a nightclub or a party. The director offers roles to musicians, including Damien Chapelle, who composed the song “More Crazyness” for a dance at the end of the film. Another song, “The Water Girl,” was composed and performed by André Wilms. Other films have music so discreet that we do not even remember if there was any. This is the case with the Iranian film The Daughter, by Reza Mirkarimi, which won the Grand Prix from the Main Jury, or with The Sounds of Things, by Costa Rica’s Ariel Escalante, or with the very melancholic FIPRESCI Prize-winner for Korea’s Kim Jongkwan, Worst Woman. For the cinema, music should accompany the film, not the blanket it with a racket that obscures both the beauty of the images and the power of the script. This was somewhat the case with Brazilian Ruy Guerra’s  Obligions Memory. Musical quotations from famous opera arias can imbue a movie with more soul, as was the case with Mahler’s music for Visconti’s Death in Venice. But in this Brazilian film, which is also not particularly clear, the music irrationally and systematically ruins the screenplay, although it is nice to hear the an excerpt from Rossini’s The Thieving Magpie or Verdi’s La donna è mobile  or to remember the sublime words “Je crois entendre encore” from Bizet’s Pearl Fishers. Indeed, in cinema, music is more sublime when it is discrete and especially when it has significance as a diegetic, symbolic or extra-diegetic element.

Edited by José Teodoro