The Sound of Music: When Cannes Goes Pop

in 68th Cannes Film Festival

by Alex Masson

Cinema isn’t only a matter of what to express with images. Sound plays its role too, especially music which can fill the gaps the narrative misses. Some composers and film music editors seem to have forgotten it as many films in Cannes this year were cacophonic.

Do we thank or blame Mason Bates for the Sea of Trees score? Once the first jaunty, jolly note is heard during the credits of Gus Van Sant’s sappy and sentimental rather than existential drama, it’s clear something is going very wrong here. And, indeed that is the case.

The soundtrack of Elie Wajeman’s The Anarchists is equally clumsy. Trying to walk in Bertrand Bonello’s footsteps by using anachronistic pop music anthems in this dusty period drama was a good idea. Choosing a cover of The Pretenders’ I Go to Sleep, once you know for sure the script and the characters will go nowhere perhaps was too obvious for the audience…

At least Jeremy Saulnier made a clear point with the track list for Green Room. As the main protagonists, a punk-rock band yells with energy Dead Kennedy’s Nazi Punks Fuck Off to a grumpy skinhead audience the tone of this energetic gory B movie is settled: let’s rock (even if the only music we’ll hear will be the sound of broken bones and sliced flesh)!

It wasn’t subtle but way more so than Jia Zhang-Ke use of Pet Shop Boys’ Go West in Mountains May Depart. Opening with that tune is a smart move. Making it some kind of Ariane’s thread for this portrayal of China’s relationship with capitalism from 1999 to 2025 is hardly putting tongue in cheek.

Some discordant notes at Critic’s Week were less calculated. When one of their selection committee members introduced Louis Garrel’s Two Friends, he made analogies with some kind of symphony of life and some gig energy. Unfortunately he added that at the time the committee saw the film, the music was a temporary one and that Philippe Sarde had composed the score since then.

Saying that was a good choice as it would link Garrel’s first feature to Claude Sautet’s debut film (Sarde composed most of his film soundtracks) was a bit of a rash statement. The light, febrile mood Garrel is trying to evoke there is frequently submerged by this loudly orchestral score, molesting the emotional scope of this rowdy tale of a menage à trois. What a relief when a more in sync Antony and the Johnsons’s I Fell in Love With a Dead Boy is suddenly heard…

The feeling of Cannes as juke-box derives not just because of the sometimes strange playlist accompanying each gala red carpet screening, transforming the place into a  noisy open air nightclub from Hell. Take Gaspar Noe’s Love. It’s fair enough for an underground film buff like him to define the psychology of its male character with the presence of conspicuous film posters (Salo, Defiance of Good, Flesh for Frankenstein, Freaks, Cannibal Holocaust and so on…), but what about the messed up Original Soundtrack, including among others parts from John Carpenter’s Escape from New York main title, Bobby Beausoleil’s Lucifer Rising or Pink Floyd’s Is There Anybody Out There? Love was supposed to be an auteur porn film (from time to time it masterfully is), not some soft-core unharmonious music orgy.

Hopefully this Cannes pop extravaganza turned down the sound for one of its best moments: in one sequence of Yorgos Lanthtimos’s The Lobster, Colin Farrell is sitting against a tree, chanting more than singing an a cappella version of Nick Cave’s Where the Wild Roses Grow.

It’s simple, and diegetic – most of the films screened in Cannes this year forgot that point – and turns out to be truly moving. At that moment, Cannes was at last making be heard some filmmaker’s own, soulful “petite musique”.

Edited by Richard Mowe