Type to search

Soundtrack review: Gauguin (Warren Ellis – 2017)

Film scores

Soundtrack review: Gauguin (Warren Ellis – 2017)


“Gauguin” is a biographical movie of the famous French post impresionist painter Paul Gauguin. In 1981 Gauguin (Vincent Cassell) went into exile for Tahiti. He wants to find his true art, as a free man, as a wild one, far from moral, political and aesthetic codes of civilised Europe. He broke into the jungle, braving solitude, poverty and illness. There he met Tehura, who would become his wife, and the subject of his most beautiful pictures. The score was written by Warren Ellis, who is one of my favourite composers, on his own or with Nick Cave.

It is fascinating to hear how the Cave/ Ellis sound with the sparse and sharp Western like strings can turn into a poignant romantic melody with just a bit of piano added and a slightly livelier performance; “La lettre”, the opening cue, is a wonderful piece of music that is right at the edge between heartbreaking and hopeful. If the piano shuts up, the dry loneliness of the usual Cave / Ellis score takes over even when it’s just the latter composing; “Au dispensaire” takes me to my musical comfort zone related to this artist and the score is smooth sailing.

Every now and then on social media appear Lego renditions or simulations of scenes from famous movies or TV shows; it’s a slightly different and awkward representation. When I hear “La foret” I get the same feeling of a nature ambient cue with sounds of water dripping and wind blowing being given the Warren Ellis treatment and being performed with his specific string instruments. It’s a beautiful and fascinating piece of music that gets hypnotic even and places the story in the lush Tahitian landscape. I imagine Warren Ellis himself, sitting awkwardly with his huge beard in the forest, playing his instruments as if nothing had changed around him.

“La boudeuse” is once again a love theme that passes through the sparse strings filter and I must admit I didn’t expect this sound to be able to work so well for a romantic score. Warren Ellis manages to express all these emotions without straying very far from the vast emptiness of the Far West. There are two tracks performed by the chorus of the catholic parish of Tautira and I get “Thin red line” Malaesian choirs nostalgia.

“La clef” (the key) is my favourite cue of the score; I feel that this is the emotional peak of “Gauguin”, the moment when the feelings are purest and most intense; it’s the pinnacle, the end of the subtle and sublime musical buildup that Warren Ellis has been constructing.

With very rare exceptions (I’m looking at you, “Bad girl”) a Warren Ellis score is one of the safest bets for a gorgeous score for me; the unique style Ellis has created alongside his musical sibling Nick Cave and that he is exploring and expanding on his own is one of my favourite things to hear and it is fascinating to hear what he can do with just a piano and a banjo.

Cue rating: 93 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 18 / 26

Album excellence: 67%

La lettre
La forêt
La clef
Les retrouvailles
Merahi Metua No Tehamana

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).

  • 1

You Might also Like

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.