I have to say, I love it when a composer surprises me. Until now, all I’d heard of Atli Örvasson’s music was the action beats he’d written for movies like HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS, so it was a bit of a shock when I listened to his beautiful and mature score to COLETTE. Based on the novel ‘A Girl In Antwerp’ by Arnošt Lustig, the film tells the story of two young lovers who meet under the shadow of the Holocaust.
The first thing that stands out about COLETTE is the gorgeous main theme. Full of passion and intrigue, the main title presents it in all its glory; a beautiful long melody that conveys the kind of heart you’d imagine, all while feeling the influence of the tragic circumstances. It’s a stunning opening to the album and sets the tone for what lies ahead.
Understandably, COLETTE seems to have its roots in the older, classical vein of film scoring. The obvious comparison is Alfred Newman’s masterpiece THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK, where Newman contrasted the desperation of the situation with a wonderfully hopeful score. COLETTE certainly has more darker and sinister passages, but the hope and heart of the main theme shines through.
Seriously, much of this music is just achingly beautiful. Listen to the gorgeous sweeping strings in ‘Merci Mon Amour’ or the heartfelt violin in ‘Kanada’, or ‘The Escape’ with its tender piano that segues into a wordless choir with the strings just soaring. It’s tricky to write about this kind of music without regurgitating cliches, but sometimes you just have to go with it. But as I said before, it’s not all sunshine.
As such, there are some really dark pieces here to illustrate the seriousness of the situation. ‘Change of Heart’ is full of sinister tones, with a Kilar-esque cello phrase and brutal brass, while ‘Planning The Escape’ uses those strings to expertly create an atmosphere of tension and urgency. The penultimate track ‘Outside The Church’ also uses them to nailbiting effect and ends bravely on a somewhat unresolved note, leaving the end credits to provide a finale.
Thankfully, the last track – yup, ‘End Titles’ – is more than up to the task of satisfyingly concluding the album musically and emotionally with a beautiful rendition of the main theme. Tinged with sadness, it provides a tragic yet soulful climax to a truly stirring score. Not just emotional, but also cathartic.
COLETTE is a remarkable score. Utterly beautiful and with an emotional honesty reminiscent of older times, it packs a real punch. It’s a real gift when these scores come out nowhere, so don’t take this one for granted.
COLETTE is out now from MovieScore Media/Kronos Records
Words: Charlie Brigden