Alexandre Desplat

Sound & vision: Modernist with a classical bent

French film composer Alexandre Desplat takes aim at his craft with the quiet resolve of a Zen master.

“You just hope that you can spend time with wonderful artists, people who give you enough energy and time to do the best job possible,” he says. “As long as the journey is a good one that inspires you, makes your craft even better, I’m ready to go on the journey.”

His haunting melodies and sophisticated harmonies for such films as “Girl With a Pearl Earring,” “Birth” and “Syriana” suggest a kinship with that other great French composer, Georges Delerue. But he also counts as influences Hitchcock fave Bernard Herrmann and Fellini’s key composer Nino Rota on the film side, samba maestro Antonio Carlos Jobim and Miles Davis in jazz, and minimalists Steve Reich and John Adams from the classical world.

Recent work on “Casanova,” “Firewall” and his Cesar-winning score for “The Beat That My Heart Skipped” showcased a diversity that will serve the 45-year-old composer well over the long haul.

Although Oscar attention has eluded Desplat, that may change with the release of three new scores in the coming months.

Due later this year are John Curran’s “The Painted Veil,” based on a Somerset Maugham novel, with Naomi Watts and Edward Norton, and “The Queen,” Stephen Frears’ film about the aftermath of Princess Diana’s death. He has already begun work on Zach Helm’s “Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium,” a fantasy with Dustin Hoffman and Natalie Portman due next year.

For “Painted Veil,” which is set in China in the 1930s, Desplat says: “I have avoided Chinese music, because China was already there on the screen. The love story was more important than the location.” But, he notes, he couldn’t resist the idea of having “a great Chinese pianist” contribute to the score — the acclaimed Lang Lang, who’s a featured soloist.

“The Queen” “was very tricky to score,” Desplat says. “There is not just one color: lots of grays and white-on-blacks.” He augmented a chamber ensemble with harpsichord and mandolin because “watching the royal family brings you back to the 18th century.”

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