The Beautiful Country marks
composer Zbigniew Preisner’s second collaboration with
director Hans Petter Moland, following their successful partnership on Aberdeen.
Several of Preisner’s regular musical team are present here, including
John Parricelli on guitar, Leszek Mozdzer on piano and Hammond organ
Glowczewski on alto sax, who all fulfilled the same roles on Aberdeen.
And while the current score echoes something of the delicately
sensibility of the previous collaboration, including a recurring main
which has distinct similarities of approach, this new work is unlike
predecessor, far from the influence of Norwegian saxophonist Jan
while Preisner continues to blend his typically elegiac orchestral
elegant solo melodies and electronics a light jazz and Asian feel lends
somewhat different tone.
The film tells the story of a refugee’s
escape from impoverishment and servitude in Vietnam to find his long
American father. It is reportedly a harrowing tale of the price
pay for freedom, and an adventure which ranges from rural Vietnam to a
Malaysian detention camp to the USA. The score meanwhile ventures from
string writing to sequences of refined ambient calm, where piano and
blend with processed electronic sound to mesmeric effect.
Key to the album is a main theme which
a melody (clearly evoking Aberdeen) played on kalimba or thumb
against a tapestry of tasteful Asian percussion, sometimes even with a
of rock Hammond organ artfully processed into the mix. Phased, or
treated, the organ sound seems almost at odds with the other
is treated as a fresh texture, not something from the far less
techniques of rock ‘n’ roll.
Elsewhere in the score percussion is used
with precision and delicacy, simple piano lines floating through the
a ghost. And notably several cues, beginning with ‘The Streets of New
counterpoint the main theme with what seems almost a reference to Alex
love theme from Spartacus (1960), particular the opening
voiced here by solo violin. In-fact there is a jazz-like approach which
to mind violinist Regina Carter’s version of North’s theme on her album
City Moments (2000).
Other notable touches include beguiling
woodwind – ‘Rain’, ‘Memories of My Mother’ – with echoes of the
score for La Double Vie de la Veronique (1991), and some highly
evocative, yet very simple, bass playing.
The Beautiful Country is a
beautiful score where melody and atmosphere combine perfectly.
Filled with typically dream-like Priesner melancholy and enchantment, The
Beautiful Country is Preisner’s most satisfying album release since
non-film score disc, Requiem for My Friend. Those who seek
action adventure, or a return to the Golden Age of Hollywood, will find
of interest here. Those familiar with the composer, or perhaps
enamoured of the
romantic beauty of Ennio Morricone’s most lyrical scores, will find the
disc offers many subtle pleasures and much to enjoy. The recorded sound
Michael McLennan adds:-
Once the composer-of-choice for the legendary Krystof Kieslowski,
Zbigniew Preisner (who scored Kieslowski’s Trois Coleur trilogy,
the Dekalog, and La Double Vie de Veronique) has not,
countryman Jan Kaczmarek, attempted to push into mainstream fold of
composers. And who could blame him? How could you go from scoring a
by Kieslowski – a man so attentive to the role of sound in film that
could be written about his use of it - to silly revenge dramas like
Singleton’s Four Brothers or Oscar bait like Lasse Hallstrom’s
Fortunately Preisner has found a
consistent stream of employment in
international arthouse cinema and borderline mainstream projects,
impressive list of credits for films directed by: Louis Malle (Damage),
Agnieska Holland (The Secret Garden), Jean Becker (Elisa,
Jardins), Charles Sturridge (Fairy Tale: A True Story),
Babenco (Corazon Illuminado), Wong Kar Wai (2046 – music
Dekalog was tracked-in), Eric Styles (Dreaming of Joseph Lees),
Warner (The Last September) and Thomas Vinterberg (the much
Claire Danes-Joaquin Phoenix starrer It’s All About Love).
In 2000, Preisner brought his unique sound
to Aberdeen, a
Stellan Skarsgard / Lena Headey / Charlotte Rampling starrer directed
Norwegian Hans Petter Moland. It was a road movie – journeying with an
estranged father-daughter pair from Norway to Scotland. Mellowdrama
sophomore release is for Moland and Preisner’s most recent
collaboration – The
Beautiful Country. Like Aberdeen, it is a road
following a young Vietnamese man (Damian Nguyen) on his journey from
Vietnam to ‘the beautiful country’ (the United States) where his
absentee father (Nick Nolte)
It’s hard to imagine any other composer
devising a score half as
distinctive as the one Preisner has produced here. Take his gorgeous
– presented in ‘The Beautiful Country’ – it seems to be a short theme
stopping after three descending notes. But it returns with another
before fading away again. And another. It seems like it has vanished
before the gorgeous bridging phrase brings the long-lined melody to its
resolution. It’s hard to compare the theme to previous Preisner tunes –
both wholly-like and completely unlike anything he’s done before.
The unique combination of timbres
consistently lifts this score. A
soft guitar rhythm and cello solo lead into ‘A Dream of Freedom’, an
harmonising with the cello before regular Kaczmarek-collaborator Leszek
Mozdzer’s icy piano appears over a vibraphone, piano and vibraphone
textural material until the end of the cue. ‘Saigon’ is an involving
piece for dulcimer, guitar, hand percussion, kalimba (Kenyan thumb
alto saxophone and vibraphone entering in duet before the cue’s end.
Promised Land’ follows in much the same vein, with stronger emphasis on
(here infused with an unmistakably jazzy feel).
Idiomatic flexibility is another feature
of the music. Piano motifs
with a gospel feel sit alongside bluegrass acoustic guitar plucking and
lilting violin theme in ‘Streets of New York’, three idioms leading
piano statement of the main theme with delicate counterpoint from the
Preisner navigates well between his larger
and smaller ensembles
throughout. The full string orchestra returns with another hesitant
theme in ‘Ship of Hope’, the fade away sections of the theme used by
for kalimba and piano harmonisation. Half way through the cue, another
string theme appears – this score is not short on melodic invention –
piano arpeggiations contrasting the large string sound. Similarly,
My Mother’ moves effortlessly from an intimate ethnic flute and
to a full string performance of the opening measures of his main theme.
placing of ‘Time Passing’, a journey for Mozdzer’s piano through duets
other ensemble performers, before the final orchestral statement of the
theme also works a treat.
While it does feel a little bit long,
there is very little
repetition between tracks without some variation in orchestration. The
production of the music is stunning, with elegant mixing of the
Rafal Paczkowski meaning even textural cues like ‘Strange Look’ leave
impression. All soloists acquit themselves finely, the score benefiting
Preisner’s emphasis on instruments not normally pushed to the
film scores (the dulcimer, vibraphone, hand drums, alto saxophone).
It is quite simply one of the finest
albums of film music to be
released this year, certainly one of the best of Preisner’s illustrious
In part this is a result of tone – though the story is dark in many of
episodes, Preisner seems to have scored the persevering human spirit at
centre of it, and it makes for an uplifting experience. Sadly, like
Morricone’s Fateless, the non-mainstream origins of the film
hard to imagine this score receiving much attention from the Academy of
Motion Picture Arts and Sciences next year.