Music Composed & Conducted by Alexandre Desplat
Movie Genre: Biography, Drama.
Movie & Soundtrack CD Release: 2009
Label: Varese Sarabande Records
Available also as a digital stream/download
“His hard gained accumulated experience in films, makes him the most sought-after composer! Which composer of his generation is better trained today than Alexandre Desplat? No one!“
One winter day, a gloomy little girl is standing at the entrance of an orphanage in the city of Aubazine, in central France. The man who drove the carriage that carried her there was her father. On Sundays, when it was a visiting day at the orphanage, the little girl would eagerly go to the entrance to see if her father would wait for her, but in vain. She will never see him again! Her name was meant to become synonymous with impeccable taste, unmistakable style, absolute perfection, and it has been a prestigious brand in the field of fashion: Coco Chanel. The above images, at the beginning of the movie “Coco Before Chanel” (2009), are accompanied by “L ‘Abandon” (#1). The film’s music is written by Alexandre Desplat, who in 2009 is already active on both shores of the Atlantic Ocean, in his homeland, France, but also in Hollywood, where he has begun to establish himself as one of the most capable and interesting composers. The beginning was with the soundtrack of the movie “Girl with the Pearl Earring” (2003), which had been singled out by one of the composers who Alexandre Desplat greatly admired and respected for his mastery, the composer Jerry Goldsmith (1929-2004). The musical prologue of the film, in “L ‘Abandon” (#1) emerges sadness and loneliness, as we are watching young Coco Chanel being abandoned by her father in the orphanage. There is a motif from 00:11 to 00:16, which is constantly repeated in the track, usually played on the piano, which is identified with Coco and expresses compassion and understanding for a soul who is deprived of the warmth of a family environment.
Coco’s career as a singer in a bar of dubious morals is at a standstill. At the same time, she works as a seamstress in a clothing store. One night, at the bar where she works, she will meet the wealthy French Balsan, who will show her his interest. They will soon part ways when he has to return home, to a suburb of Paris. Shortly thereafter, when Coco decides to make a change in her life, she visits Balsan uninvited. This decision turns to be a life-changing one, since, this way, she leaves her previous life behind. She packs her things and when she is ready, she is sitting on her bed for a while, thinking. She wonders whether she will get what she wants. The violins at 00:52 of “Royallieu” (#4) imply a movement, at that same time that she is still. It’s like music is pushing her to act, to dare do what she is thinking of. Next thing, her motif returns and the fact that things are not going well in her life is the reason for its repetition. The rationale behind the use of this motif begins to emerge, which seems to be identified with the negative circumstances that arise in her life and the sadness-misery these cause. It was heard for the first time when her father abandoned her in the orphanage, and now again in this scene. The repetition of Coco’s motif serves as a reminder of the difficulties she encounters on her life path.
Coco arrives at Balsan’s luxury home. She is given a room, which when she sees it, she is stunned by its beauty and its comforts. She has never lived in such a luxury. The music in the first half of “Gabrielle Bonheur” (#8) is used in the above scene, with a repeated motif which every time we listen to it, it is as if it emphasizes something new to which she turns her gaze and she is enchanted by the place. The second half of the track was not used in the scene. Coco and Balsan put on their smart clothes and go to the racetrack. Coco observes the hats of the women walking around her and she is thinking how much better the hats she would make they could be. The music of the scene is the track “L’ Hippodrome” (#9) and is associated with Coco’s searching look, who finds these women’s hats unbearably extravagant. Do not expect to listen to music that has something to do with the place where Coco is or the horses and their race, but music which exclusively refers to her observation skills.
The deadline for Coco staying at Balsan’s house has expired. The car for her to depart is waiting, however, she will make up something to extend her stay. Besides, where could she go? It is time for Balsan’s company to meet her, who, until then, were completely unaware of her presence at home. With some alterations she makes in her clothes, she dresses as a boy and she dramatically appears in front of Balsan and his company. Her stylistic preparation to make her clothes look boyish is accompanied by “Couture” (#5), which very aptly refers to the deception that Coco is preparing, with style as her ally, with the composer Alexandre Desplat expressing it in terms of music with the pizzicato (the technique of playing by plucking the strings with the fingers). Shortly thereafter, when she feels uncomfortable in a dress that Balsan gave her as a gift, she will take it off and make her own one. What she will make may not be as feminine as the one she wore before, but it is definitely compatible with her temperament. The return of the same music, from “Couture” (#5), now convinces us that the pizzicato technique is the musical imagery chosen by the composer for her creative inspiration.
One of the people who frequently visit Balsan’s house is the charming businessman Boy Capel, whom Coco meets and is gradually attracted to. The first kiss they exchange has the background music of “Premier Baiser” (#7), which focuses on the tenderness of the moment, with humble intentions, without highlighting in an intense or pompous way what the viewer watches. Later, in a love scene between them, the same music will be repeated, modestly recording their love desire, as we hear in “Un Seul Amour” (#14).
Coco and Boy spend two magical days together at a seaside resort. For their trip and their first moments in the hotel, the music presents for the first time a new theme, where cello and violin are combined with the piano in turns. This is the track “Coco & Boy” (#3), which conveys a feeling of joy and happiness and it could be perceived as the musical theme of their romance. It is the first time that Coco feels happy in her life and this is a good reason for the composer to employ it in his storytelling through music. And he does it wonderfully. Later in the movie, we will get another taste of their musical happiness, when Coco drives Boy’s car. It is with “Avenue du Bois” (#6). A track that steals the show, without doubt, serves as the background music for the couple’s dance at the hotel casino. The magnificent waltz of “Casino de Deauville” (#16) appears after their love theme and thus enables a musical climax that expresses a corresponding emotional climax of the couple, who are having fun and the best time ever.
Boy prepares to marry an Englishwoman, so Coco is hurt and she now changes the course of her life. She will not live with him in Britain as she imagined, but her love for him is so great that she will continue to meet him and spend happy moments together. Coco then decides to do something that will change her life, to go to Paris and start her own hat-making business. A moment of introspection in nature, with Coco lying on the trunk of a tree, will make her take the above decision, with the valuable help of music, as we hear it in “Coco Rêve de Paris” (#12), which conveys her racing thoughts. Boy’s news may be bad, but they make her come up with an idea which might have a good perspective.
The farewell between Coco and Balsan is musically accompanied by “L’ Atelier” (# 13), where something that we have not heard in the musical narrative for a long time, Coco’s theme, returns. In a scene where Coco is sad, it makes sense to use the theme which has proved to be related to the misery that people and situations bring to her life. Making an overall assessment of her motif in the film’s musical narrative, we find that it appears when Coco prepares to experience a change in her life, a transition from one situation to another, for which the only certainty is uncertainty. Coco’s sorrow for leaving Balsan will give way to grief, when she hears the horrible news of the accident Boy had while driving. A sad version of the love theme is heard almost imperceptibly as she heads to the scene of the accident. The scene of the overturned vehicle is accompanied by Coco’s emotion and musical silence. There are some scenes where there is no need for music. Especially, when you want to make a statement through music in the next scene.
Coco is getting ready for her first fashion show and she is experimenting with different fabrics and styles. While, under different circumstances, she should be happy, now she is blank-faced and cold. Her dream comes true but the man she loved is no longer alive. An atmosphere of death lingers in her studio and the music brings back a sad and fragile performance of Coco and Boy’s love theme, as we listen at the beginning of “Le Chagrin de Coco” (#15). In the second half, the track will express in a more intense way the inner drama of the heroine, with the performance of the violins of the London Symphony Orchestra. Something worth focusing on in this scene is how important the role of music is. It is so important that it completely defines the scene. Can anyone imagine this scene without its music? It is impossible. Coco experiences an inner mourning for Boy, which she does not let it be externalized. It is the music that brings it to the surface and makes it apparent.
Alexandre Desplat chose to identify the haute couture show with a moment of happiness Coco and Boy shared in the past, dancing in the casino. A more extensive version of the seductive waltz we had listened then makes its appearance as the models descend a flight of stairs, with Coco watching them cold, with no emotion on her face. The track on this scene is “Chez Chanel” (#2) and brings the euphoria of a waltz to an event that is normally a celebration of fashion, to which of course it fits perfectly, but the protagonist of this celebration does not seem to celebrate. She is emotionally absent, she is far from what happens spiritually because the shadow of the love that fate has deprived her of, is heavy. The contrast between the euphoria of the music and Coco’s misery is a very interesting element of the scene, which is expected to change soon. When the show is over and they start applauding Coco, then and only then she smiles. The love theme of Coco and Boy has already returned. It is as if she sees him in front of her and he smiles at her and applauds her. Music makes him present, someone who can not be present in his physical form. Proof that nothing can be as expressive as music! Only, of course, in the hands of a very capable composer like Alexandre Desplat.
Watching the finale of the film, we realize something quite important for the music of the cinema, which is often overlooked. Directors should not be afraid of music and allow the composers to express themselves creatively. This should be done not only with words and intentions, but in practice. The best way is to set up scenes without dialogues that will leave room for the music to excel, taking the narration on its shoulders. Some of the most important compositions for the big screen were written for scenes like these, which the music made them classic! For the last twenty years, this rarely happens, and the directors are to blame. Without a doubt, the finale of the film takes its charm due to the musical signature of Alexandre Desplat. However, this presupposes the director’s trust in the composer and here it was given. For the film “Coco Before Chanel”, Alexandre Desplat composes music which places the heroine at its center, music which highlights her feelings towards the joys and sorrows that life brings to her. Coco Chanel has been one of the most creative people in the field of fashion. Composer Alexandre Desplat is on the same level in the field of film music today. When he was writing the soundtrack of the film, he had already started to show in practice how creative he can be. Nowadays, his hard gained accumulated experience in films, makes him the most sought-after composer! His creativity has helped him develop his art. And when you grow, then you achieve a certain level of training called maturity. Which composer of his generation is better trained today than Alexandre Desplat? No one!
01. L’Abandon (4:07)
02. Chez Chanel (2:33)
03. Coco & Boy (2:48)
04. Royallieu (2:54)
05. Couture (2:28)
06. Avenue du Bois (1:38)
07. Premier Baiser (1:40)
08. Gabrielle Bonheur (1:54)
09. L’Hippodrome (2:55)
10. Arthur Capel (2:09)
11. Confession de Balsan (1:27)
12. Coco Rêve de Paris (1:32)
13. L’Atelier (1:48)
14. Un Seul Amour (1:54)
15. Le Chagrin de Coco (3:00)
16. Casino de Deauville (1:38)
17. Little Black Baby (written by Scott Joplin, performed by Vanessa Wagner) (1:37)
18. Qui qu’a vu Coco (written by Baumaine-Blondelet and Deransart, performed by Audrey Tautou and Marie Gillain with Patrick Laviosa) (1:42)
Total Time: 36:24 (score only)
Tracks that stand out are noted with bold letters
Score Rating: * * * *