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Soundtrack review: Papillon (David Buckley – 2018)

Film scores

Soundtrack review: Papillon (David Buckley – 2018)

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“Papillon” is a 2017 biographical drama film directed by Michael Noer. It tells the story of French convict Henri Charrière (Charlie Hunnam), nicknamed “Papillon”, who was imprisoned in 1933 and escaped in 1941 with the help of another convict, counterfeiter Louis Dega (Rami Malek). The film’s screenplay is based on Charrière’s autobiographies Papillon and Banco, as well as the former’s 1973 film adaptation, which was written by Dalton Trumbo and Lorenzo Semple Jr. and starred Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman. David Buckley wrote the score.

As I have mentioned in my review of the original “Papillon” this was one of my favourite adventure stories growing up. It held me on the edge of my seat and Henri Charriere was one of my first true heroes. I welcome this remake and I can’t wait to see how Charlie Hunnam plays the part. The opening cue which serves as a new main theme surprises me; I was expecting something loud, modern and David Buckley caresses my ears with a minimalistic, almost elegiac piece with a sparse instrumentation and an angelic choir. It’s just the tip of the iceberg as the composer goes even deeper with the instrumentation, entering Daniel Pemberton territory when it comes to experiments; after being part of “King Arthur – legend of the sword” Charlie Hunnam must be getting used to weird scores. “Tabac D’espagne” I can only describe as a hallucinatory experience which, in a way (French voiceovers excluded) links this score to Jerry Goldsmith’s neurotic original.

“Cephale” goes back to the cathedral sound and the angelic choir. Hearing cues like this makes me wonder if the movie itself isn’t a new, different take on the story as the music feels intimate, introspective and elegiac rather than expansive. “Cuivré de la Bistorte” brings the first action piece of “Papillon” and it’s electric. Those strings sound as if they are played with a chainsaw instead of a bow. Naturally the next cue is, once again, elegiac and religious and I am really starting to wonder what that’s about.

When it’s not pious, the atmosphere of the score works for me. “Myrtil” is a beautiful minimalistic piece that actually brings some nostalgia with its reflective and sparse pace, it makes me think of Nick Cave and Warren Ellis. Definitely one for the end of the year lists and regardless of the choices of the director, David Buckley went for intimacy in his music.

In a film music world where the tendency for a lot of score is to sound like “something else”, the fact that for me the sound of David Buckley’s “Papillon” is quite unique is already a compliment. I expected an action score and I got a personal reflection, a confession more than anything else, written with sharp instruments and with enough spaces within the cues to allow me to insert my own thoughts. In a way the hallucinatory feel of this album makes me think of another recent score that make me feel this way, Roque Banos “The man who killed Don Quixote”. The standalone listening experience was definitely enjoyable and enriching and I will return to this score for sure.

Cue rating: 90 / 100

Highlights:
Papillon
Céphale
Myrtil
Citron
Tircis
Azuré des anthyllides

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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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