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Soundtrack review: The exception (Ilan Eshkeri – 2016)

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Soundtrack review: The exception (Ilan Eshkeri – 2016)

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“The Exception” is a 2016 romantic war drama film directed by David Leveaux (in his directorial debut) and written by Simon Burke, based on the 2003 novel The Kaiser’s Last Kiss by Alan Judd. The film stars Jai Courtney, Lily James, Janet McTeer and Christopher Plummer. The plot is a fictionalized account of the last few days in the life of exiled Kaiser Wilhelm II (Plummer), where a German soldier (Courtney) tries to determine if the Dutch resistance has planted a spy to infiltrate the Kaiser’s home in Holland during the onset of World War II, but falls for a young Jewish Dutch woman (James) during his investigation. Ilan Eshkeri wrote the score.

Ilan Eshkeri is the type of composer who can create the most emotional themes when the story and inspiration are there; the cello, the violin and the piano that start playing one after the other in the opening cue “Waking up” combine for a showstopper right from the start; elegant and elegiac, the opening cue builds up into one of my favourite war drama cues of this year; it’s a theme worthy of the end titles of a drama, a memorable piece of music that is as haunting as it’s heartbreaking. The Jewish element is subtle but easily identifiable in the string motifs and I just wonder where can this score go after such a stunning start. Well a composer as intelligent as Ilan Eshkeri takes the main motif from this first theme and develops it further in the next couple of cues “Stefan prepares himself” and “Chopping wood” I already can’t do without that melodic and goose bumps inducing violin motif. My god when the strings are unleashed I feel as if someone is squeezing my heart to drain it of emotion. Then the piano comes in, a solo piano wonder like “Feeding ducks” that leaves me completely speechless once again. Seriously I can’t remember the last time a score started so vibrantly and so affecting. Each piece of music here sounds more beautiful than the one before and I am almost afraid of so much beauty.

Maybe the music caught me in the right mood or maybe I am so sensitive to both the piano and the violin when they are played with such passion and emotion but this score just moves me every second of the way; whether the violins are furious or tender, whether the piano is rolling or playfully touched, every motif from “The exception” is a gem to me. I listen to a cue like “Mikka’s message” for example and I feel completely invested in the story. The fury of the orchestra in some moments is just too much and I stop and replay some cues just to enjoy it again. Usually my favourite war drama scores are subdued and mostly quiet but I bow to the stride and richness of this one. It strikes the right balance between drama and romance and it makes me want to see the movie and hear it in context as well.

There are scores that simply manage to hit all the right places inside me from the first second to the last. There are scores that catch me in moments when I am thirsty for beautiful orchestral music. Usually the anchor is a main theme that I just can’t get over but here there are two of them, equally moving, one piano and one violin. “The exception” is one of the most intensely emotional scores I’ve heard this year. The music is dense both when it’s quietly romantic and when the strings start stabbing furiously and for me Ilan Eshkeri’s composition is a flawless score that I want to listen to over and over again. The echo of both the piano and the strings will leave on and I invite you to experience the beauty of “The exception”.

Cue rating: 100 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 40 / 40

Album excellence: 100%

Highlights:
Waking Up
Stefan Prepares Himself
Chopping Wood
Feeding Ducks
Stefan’s New Room
Apology
Restoration
Seize The Day
Himmler Arrives
Private Conversations
The Kaiser Sees The Truth
Mika’s Message
The Ambulance
Escape
Mika’s Promise
Return To Berlin
The Kaiser’s Theme
Last Kiss

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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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