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Soundtrack review: A tale of love and darkness (Nicholas Britell – 2015)

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“A Tale of Love and Darkness” is a 2015 drama film directed by Natalie Portman, based on the autobiographical novel of the same name by Israeli author Amos Oz, taking place at Jerusalem in the last years of Mandatory Palestine and the first years of independent Israel. It was screened at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival. It is Natalie Portman’s directorial feature debut. I’m in for anything with her name on it. This is the first time she got to speak Hebrew, her native tongue.             Nicholas Britell wrote the score.

There’s a lot of traditional Jewish music on this score, of course. The opening is melodic and emotional. It sends echoes inside me and wakes up memories. There’s a quiet desperation in this first cue and the soloists do a great job of transmitting feelings. The score opens with a clear statement from the composer about where he wants to take this. I like the direction. Not pathetic, not overly dramatic, just honest.

A score like this is quite special to me because it uses only warm instruments; no electronic or synthetic devices, just a few elements from the orchestra; this gives “A tale of love and darkness” a special sound, an elegant sound. The composer’s touch is so gentle and intimate that I shiver at the sound of some of the cues. The sound of the flute caresses me… I feel the heartbreaking solo cello in “Swing sequence” as if it was playing near me… and the strings in “A monk’s tale” seems to be telling my own story.

This score is as beautiful and touching as the most beautiful poem. I don’t even know if this is a film score or a symphonic composition. The movements are there, the instruments are there and the stories the music tells are more appropriate for a concert. This score is very rare in its beauty and I am extremely happy I found it. Midway through it turns into a piano concerto that just floors me with the emotions it brings. Then it switches to other instruments just as meaningful.

I must applaud and praise the soloists from this score. Caitlin Sullivan and her cello…Kyle Ambrust and his viola… they make magic happen. You know that when a score has actual soloists performing you can’t miss it. These two musicians will stay on my list just like the various Hillary Hahn or Joshua Bell did from other memorable compositions.

If you like music for the heart and soul, “A tale of love and darkness” is for you. If you like the emotion of the string instruments and the burst of a piano, this score is for you. If you like music…this score is for you. For me it was a perfect score. It stunned me, it touched me, it moved me and it’s one of my favorites of the year. I didn’t expect to discover such a gem. Thank you Nicholas Britell for the emotions. This score comes from another world, a magical one.

Cue rating: 100 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 31 / 31

Album excellence: 100%

Highlights:

Opening Music (feat. Caitlin Sullivan, Kyle Armbrust)

Women’s Dance from Aleko (Excerpt) (feat. Tim Fain)

Swing Sequence (feat. Caitlin Sullivan, Kyle Armbrust)

The Monk’s Tale

Main Theme in F# / Poème in F# (feat. Re’ut Ben-Ze’ev)

The Soldier’s Tale

War Footage

Post-War Jerusalem (feat. Caitlin Sullivan)

Arieh Goes Out

Amos Sees Arieh (feat. Caitlin Sullivan, Kyle Armbrust)

Pioneer on the Mountain (feat. Caitlin Sullivan, Kyle Armbrust)

Cossack Lullaby (Traditional) (Natalie Portman)

Emunah V’omanut (feaat. Re’ut Ben-Ze’ev)

Dance of Death (Gavotte)

Toccata

About the author

Mihnea Manduteanu

I have been listening to film music for 25 years and writing about it since 2014. I've written over 1000 reviews and I can't imagine myself doing anything else. I am also a member of IFMCA (International Film Music Critics Association).

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