In a recent survey four out of five on-line French-English dictionaries were found to have no recognition of the word 'Effroyables'. The dictionary which did acknowledge the word translated it as 'horrifying'. The official English language title of Effroyables Jardins is Strange Gardens.
The film is a comedy drama set in small town France during 1940's and '50's, which appears to use humour in the face of Nazi horror in much the same way as La Vita è bella (Life is Beautiful (1997)). The director is Jean Becker, probably best known in the English speaking world for L Été meurtrier(One Deadly Summer (1983)), a film also set in provincial France which flashed-back between present and recent past with devastating results.
If, as the reviews suggest, Effroyables Jardins is at all humorous, this is not reflected in the score by Zbigniew Preisner. There are some composers so gifted and versatile they can be commissioned to turn their hand to anything, so much so that a personal style may be so little in evidence it acts to the detriment of their career. Then there are composers who are hired for their very specific approach, for their instantly recognisable style. One such is Preisner, who always works in a beautiful, sparse, pared-down and pure style comparable to that of the Greek composer Eleni Karaindrou, whose The Weeping Meadow is also reviewed on FMOTW this month.
With Preisner, it can be fairly argued, one always knows what one is going to get. And one probably already knows what one thinks about that. Effroyables Jardins is essentially more of the same; elegant, eloquent, introverted and introspective music for small orchestra and featured soloists – in this case performing violin, harp, percussion and particularly piano (and a little Hammond organ), played by Preisner regular Leszek Mozder. In its sad, sombre and delicate way this is very touching and attractive music, cut very much from the same cloth as the composer's work for La Double vie de Véronique, Aberdeen, Weiser, and especially the solo album Ten Easy Pieces For Piano. Sound and performances are immaculate to the point of being hermetically sealed, such that the lively freshness of the cheerful period song 'Y'a D'la Joie' sounds quiet out of place three cues before the end of the disc.
At 33 minutes this is a brief album which does not outstay its welcome. A beautiful listen, it may be best appreciated by those who already know they love this composer's very particular style, yet do not already have to many of his albums in their collection.