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Soundtrack review: The promise (Gabriel Yared – 2017)

Film scores

Soundtrack review: The promise (Gabriel Yared – 2017)

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“The Promise” is a 2016 American historical drama film directed by Terry George and starring Oscar Isaac, Charlotte Le Bon and Christian Bale, set in the final years of the Ottoman Empire. “The Promise” is about a love triangle that develops between Armenian medical student Mikael (Isaac), an American journalist based in Paris named Chris (Bale) and an Armenian-born woman raised in France, Ana (Le Bon), during the final years of the Ottoman Empire, and during the Armenian Genocide. Even if it is presented like this the movie will present a different point of view about a controversial time in the history of these two countries. Gabriel Yared wrote the score and somehow I couldn’t have imagined anybody else painting the beautiful musical canvas of this story. It’s nice to see on the album two of my favorite names in rock music (and incidentally two of my favorite voices ever):  Serj Tankian, who is Armenian and was very involved in promoting and raise awareness about the events and who I always appreciated for how vocal he always is in supporting his country and using his fame for this and also Chris Cornell who wrote and performed the theme song, 10 years after he did the same for my favorite Bond movie “Casino Royale”.

Regardless of the subtext and historical context this movie is a love story and all my memories and dreams about Oriental fairy tales are instantly brought back as “Voyage to Constantinople” lays in front of me a beautiful and mysterious landscape; few composers can write music so beautiful and fragile as Yared and this is both a blessing and a curse for him as he is not sought after often enough in recent years and his old school soft and gentle musical touch sometimes collides with the need for generic sound design.

Me, I rush to listen to every score he puts out because I find myself needing this refuge and the solace his music provides; a score like “The promise” creates a bubble that the outside world can’t penetrate. My two year old baby girl often asks me before falling asleep to pull the covers tightly above us so nobody can find us under there; Gabriel Yared’s music is my equivalent for that.  Even in the most agitated of times the buzzing in my head quiets down when cues like “Promenade” or “Ana invites Michel” evoke an endless starry sky.

Of course the story isn’t all dreamy and beautiful as the reality of that period puts a spear through the veil of magic. “Exodus” is the first moment when the music gets serious and dark without becoming heavy. I recognize the duduk that was first introduced to me by Hans Zimmer in “Gladiator” as “Labor camp” presents a hardship that doesn’t affect the feelings of the characters as their determination grows despite the external conditions. The music makes me feel and makes me connect with the characters even if I haven’t met them yet. A single soloist blowing carefully and meaningful into that wooden instrument can sometimes speak louder than an orchestra. Even when presenting the massacre the composer writes about the echoes and aftermath as the duduk wails and wails as a silent and impotent witness to the tragedy.

The undisturbed flow of a Gabriel Yared score creates a reflective and deep listening experience. The music never gets loud but still manages to make all the points it wants to. “The promise” could be considered as a minimalistic score as the composer employs a small number of instruments and slowly explores his music through them. The subtle and ghostly vocal inserts enhance the overall feeling of sadness of the album as emotions are restrained and sometimes still manage to trickle through the cracks.

“The promise” is vintage Yared and one of the most beautiful and haunting scores I’ve heard this year. I can’t wait to hear the music in context and to experience the special experience of a Gabriel Yared score more often. The album also contains a couple of traditional Armenian songs which together with the 8 minute long finale written and performed by Serj Tankian and the Authentic Light Orchestra complete the musical presentation.

Cue rating: 94 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 32 / 42

Album excellence: 76%

Highlights:

Voyage to Constantinople

Promenade

Ana Invites Michael

Labor Camp

Way Home

Ana and Michael

Confession

Massacre

Mourning

Sari Siroun Yar (Serj Tankian and the Authentic Light Orchestra) (feat. Veronika Stalder)

 

 

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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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