The sounds of summer

Grégoire Hetzel on composing for Summertime and The Innocents.

by Anne-Katrin Titze

Grégoire Hetzel: "Joy is difficult to translate."
Grégoire Hetzel: "Joy is difficult to translate." Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

The composer for Arnaud Desplechin's My Golden Days (Trois Souvenirs De Ma Jeunesse), A Christmas Tale (Un Conte De Noël); Kings & Queen (Rois Et Reine); La Forêt and The Beloved (L'Aimée), Mathieu Amalric's The Blue Room (La Chambre Bleue), Cédric Anger's Next Time I'll Aim For the Heart (La Prochaine Fois Je Viserai Le Coeur), and Renaud Fely's L'Ami (François D'Assise Et Ses Frères) spoke with me about scoring Catherine Corsini's Summertime (La Belle Saison) starring Izïa Higelin and Cécile de France and Anne Fontaine's The Innocents (Agnus Dei).

Delphine (Izïa Higelin) in Paris
Delphine (Izïa Higelin) in Paris

Grégoire Hetzel, who previously worked with Corsini on Les Ambitieux and Three Worlds (Trois Mondes) points out the similarity between her joy and Anne Fontaine's religion in our conversation high above Central Park.

The love story in Summertime is placed in the centre without ever blurring the edges. Paris in the spring of 1971 - Delphine (Izïa Higelin) freshly arrived from the farm where she grew up, by chance or fate, finds herself on the same street where a group of women in protest slap the behinds of men strolling by. This is how she meets Carole (Cécile de France), a feminist activist with undeniable charm. The ensuing relationship temporarily leads both women back to Delphine's parental place near Limoges where they really get to know not only each other, but also the prejudices of the society around them.

Cécile de France, very alive and funny, displays the same transformative magnetism and deep goodheartedness that made the Dardenne's The Kid With A Bike so powerful. Noémie Lvovsky as Delphine's mother, a woman who is capable of almost single-handedly running the entire farm without ever taking credit for it, quietly steals the scenes she is in. Her body language, the house dresses she wears for work, and the deeply engrained positions of what cannot be, are as real as can be.

Monique, Delphine's mother (Noémie Lvovsky) at the farm
Monique, Delphine's mother (Noémie Lvovsky) at the farm

Anne-Katrin Titze: You told me it took five weeks to compose a score for Arnaud Desplechin's A Christmas Tale. Is that true for any kind of film with any director?

Grégoire Hetzel: Yes. Sometimes it's six months. For Catherine Corsini, for example. But I made other films in-between. Catherine, for example, wants me to be there for the editing.

AKT: Hearing you talk about A Christmas Tale and Summertime - is there summer music and winter music for you? Are these categories in your head?

GH: No. Strangely… Can we say strangely?

AKT: Absolutely we can say strangely.

GH: Strangely, the music for Summertime is atonal music. Because it's really autumnal time. It's the end of the summer - the mood is like that. The summer in the film is very short. Summer is pleasure and innocence. The autumn comes too fast. When the girls are swimming in a river, the time of joy, there is a pop song.

Delphine welcomes Carole (Cécile de France) to the countryside near Limoges
Delphine welcomes Carole (Cécile de France) to the countryside near Limoges

AKT: Is that the only part not composed by you?

GH: Yes. Summertime is direct music and very melancholic music. The film is not complicated.

AKT: I liked the joy in it. It shows the feminist group being so happy and full of exuberance - that is the great merit, I felt. I really liked how the two women meet in Paris, slapping the behinds of passersby.

GH: Yes, yes. I love that. For a musician, for me…

AKT: It's too simple?

GH: No, no, I love to be simple. I am simple! But it was difficult for me to compose that. Catherine is a friend. We've made three films together. It's the same with the film of Anne Fontaine.

AKT: The Innocents?

GH: Yes. I began to compose when she began to edit. So it was a very long work for me. There is very little music but she needed that. You have to be very humble with music for films. You know, at the end of the scores, Bach wrote S.D.G. - Soli Deo Gloria. For me, it's Soli Film Gloria.

Carole and Delphine on the farm
Carole and Delphine on the farm

AKT: It's all about serving the film?

GH: It's not very comfortable but it's normal. But it is a suffering. I am also working on another religious film on St. Francis of Assisi. It's difficult because of the religious subject.

AKT: Why? Are there certain subjects that you work better with than others?

GH: Maybe it's a question of joy. Joy is difficult to translate. Or religion - in religion, it's not necessarily joy, but something pure and not so human. Joy is human but it's not so human indeed. It's an absolute feeling. It's not a human feeling - joy. When you have joy in a Desplechin film or an Amalric film, it's so human that you have already a thinking of the end of joy. When you are religious, you don't have the end of joy.

You can't have that because you are with God and human feelings are behind you. I don't know. For the Anne Fontaine film - and it's the same for Catherine Corsini's film - it's a story of joy at the beginning. For joy, I think pop music is better because it's immediate music.

Carole on her way back to Paris
Carole on her way back to Paris

AKT: You prefer texture?

GH: Of course in Vivaldi, in Bach, you have some kind of music of happiness. Also Mozart. Maybe it's too difficult for me? I have to work on that.

Read what Grégoire Hetzel had to say on scoring with Arnaud Desplechin and Mathieu Amalric.

Summertime opens in the UK on July 15 and in the US on July 22. The Innocents opened in the US on July 1 and will open in the UK on November 11, 2016.

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