Film scores

Soundtrack review: Gernika (Fernando Velazquez – 2016)

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“Gernika” is a 2016 war drama which takes place in the Basque Country of Northern Spain during the country’s turbulent internal struggle in the lead up to World War II. Focused around a love story between journalists caught in times of war, social turmoil and competing politics, Gernika narrates the infamous bombing of the city, which would later inspire Picasso’s eponymous painting. The film is centrally set in the press office, revolving around the daily hustle and bustle of international journalists, all trying their best to record the true nature of events transpiring in the world around them. Fernando Velazquez wrote the score and I am exciting to hear it as I am a big fan of his fantasy compositions.

One thing that has always drawn me to Fernando Velazquez’s music was his ability to make darkness sound appealing and welcoming. The way he plays the piano makes me think of a set of stairs that lead somewhere dark and maybe not happy but a place I still want to go to. Right from the start of the score the music has meaning and depth and as it rolls through my ears and fills me up with emotions. I don’t need the on screen images to know what the story is about; I hear a cue like “Back from the front / the picture” with its choral inserts and cold, threatening motifs and I get the awful impression of war. This particular track borders with horror music when the stabbing horns come in. This mood contrasts with the beautiful musical depiction of Bilbao as the composer exposes the entire specter of feelings, from being in love to being sad and mournful, everything honest and relatable.

A beautiful score like “Gernika” is not just for film music lovers; this is the type of orchestral music with a touch of period nostalgia that can satisfy even the most severe ears. If you don’t have a connection with the story you can just let the music caress you and embrace your own memories and dreams. Just try a cue like “The Consul and Nikolai” and see how it fits you.

And then there is “Gernika under the bombs”… Everyone will be talking about this cue because Fernando Velazquez went all in and came up with something that will be remembered for ages; I had to check to see if there ever was a regular film music cue 25 minutes long and I couldn’t find one. There have been suites or sketch books but not a normal cue and I can’t wait to see how it fits a particular scene in the movie, I wonder if the scene is as long. The cue is like a separate score and story in itself; a whirlwind that goes from quiet to epic and back. I would love to listen to these movements live in a concert hall; the music builds up and is not interrupted and gives even more poignancy to the emotions if evokes. Whatever happens feels more real as if it was a single camera shot scene that makes you part of it. Dramatic, emotional and spectacular, “Gernika under the bombs” showcases the immense talent and potential of one of the most exciting composers working today. This cue worries me, scares me, moves me, and makes me care. This is what music in general and film music in particular is all about for me: making me feel. This means the composer did everything right. I love the choral parts woven in the dramatic motifs that shake me from the inside as they carry that emotional weight of war that I last heard to intensely in James Newton Howard’s “Snow falling on cedars” and I love the soothing balm of the piano that almost brings tears to my eyes. It’s already October and this cue is a front runner for cue of the year.

“Gernika” is a beautiful and complex score which will leave a mark. Fernando Velazquez’s brings a little bit more heart to the film music world with every new score he writes.

Cue rating: 83 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 52 / 75

Album excellence: 70%

Highlights:

Back from the Front / The Picture

Press Office Tour

The Consul and Nikolai

The Real Thruth is on her Face

My Hidding Place / Teresa

Gernika under the Bombs

End Credits

 

 

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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