Eye on the Oscars: Music Preview

Alexandre Desplat has been busy, as usual. The prolific composer scored no less than nine films in 2012 including “Moonrise Kingdom,” “Argo,” “Rise of the Guardians,” “Zero Dark Thirty” and several from his native France, including Jacques Audiard’s Cannes entry “Rust and Bone.”

“I did a lot of movies but that is because I never stop,” Desplat says by phone from his house in Majorca, where he’s recharging for a few days between sessions. “I just write from dawn to dusk.”

Tight relationships with directors and a sharp intuition for melding sound and image have kept Desplat in demand since he broke into Hollywood with 2003’s “Girl With a Pearl Earring.” The Frenchman has since scored films directed by George Clooney, Tom Hooper, Stephen Daldry, Terrence Malick and Roman Polanski. It’s director’s visions that keep him energized, he says, and at this point the composer can afford to be picky.

“Every director has his own syntax, his own grammar, his own words,” he explains. “I always try to approach a film from the point of view of the director.”

Inspired in his teens by scores from Michel Legrand, Jerry Goldsmith and Hitchcock’s go-to composer Bernard Herrmann, Desplat says he strives to find the color of the film, “there is a vibration and that is the vibration I am trying to catch with the music.” His scores often follow a strong melodic line throughout — if it’s what the film calls for — and employ transparent instrumentation, like his score for Wes Anderson’s “Moonrise Kingdom.”

“Wes is very accurate and very precise on what he wants and what he doesn’t want,” says Desplat. “When I have an idea I play it for him and we look closely at the picture and we adjust.”

For “Argo,” Desplat wanted to bridge the film’s Western and Middle Eastern viewpoints. This meant a pair of Turkish musicians and an Iranian chanteuse, which guide the score on a graceful yet unsettling trajectory.

“All these sounds create something very specific that belong to this film that I could not use in another film as a combination of sounds,” he says.

Audiard’s “Rust and Bone,” however, had few flourishes. The resonant, horn-driven score — pushed forward by a high-key monotone — appears only briefly. Desplat has composed all Audiard’s films, so he’s well-versed in the director’s penchant for sterile imagery punctuated by fast camera work and lush close-ups. His job, Desplat says, is to bring light and “more of the invisible” to the director’s bleak dramaturgy.

After a year of back-to-back projects and a full docket ahead, Desplat says he doesn’t worry about the lurking shadow that stalks many creators — writers block.

“I don’t have that,” he says-, adding, “My art is applied to another art which is cinema, that makes my life much easier.”

To reflect the director’s distinct aesthetic, the score needed to have a grandiose sensibility but remain minimal, with the ability to be at once mysterious, witty and tender. To achieve this, Desplat employed a male choir and unexpected instruments like vibraphone, glockenspiel and ukulele, which form a composition that both skips and marches.

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