November's event is the release of Jean-Jacques Annaud’s newest film with music by James Horner: Black Gold. On Wednesday, 2 November we went to Le Havre, where the film was shown to a French audience for the first time. This was an opportunity for us to discover the composer’s latest score, and to meet the director, who came to answer questions from the audience after viewing the film.
Under the unforgiving desert sky, two warring leaders come face to face.
The victorious Nesib, Emir of Hobeika, lays down his peace terms to his rival Amar, Sultan of Salmaah. The two men agree that neither can lay claim to the area of no man’s land between them called The Yellow Belt. In return, Nesib will adopt Amar’s two boys Saleeh and Auda as a guarantee that neither man can invade the other.
Twelve years later, Saleeh and Auda have grown into young men. Saleeh, the warrior, itches to escape his gilded cage and return to his father’s land. Auda cares only for books and the pursuit of knowledge. One day, their adopted father Nesib is visited by an American from Texas. He tells the Emir that his land is blessed with oil and promises him riches beyond his wildest imagination.
Nesib imagines a realm of infinite possibility, a kingdom with roads, schools and hospitals all paid for by the black gold beneath the barren sand. There is only one problem. The precious oil is located in the Yellow Belt.
The stage is now set for an epic showdown for control of the Yellow Belt, for control of the two kingdoms, for control of the future.
As was Enemy At The Gates, Black Gold is a notable film, for it is meaningful and develops many ideas. Beyond the spectacular aspect of certain scenes, beyond the director’s capacity of improving without resorting to the all digital but to his own means, even in the most intimate moments of the story, or his ability to keep the fluidity of the narration over the 128-minute long submersion in the desert, the story really stands out by suggesting to us a series of pertinent thoughts about the relations between East and West, the progress and customs of the first calling into question the faith and objection to change advocated by the second’s ancient religious texts. Thus, themes like money, the status of women, freedom, family, faith and even medicine, are studied seriously but also sometimes with a pleasant humor, brought to us by the humorous role of the doctor.
Even if the story is set in the '30s, the whole discourse echoes of today’s geopolitical situation, with the exploitation of oil in the Middle East, but also in the Arabian revolution of early 2011 in its quest for freedom. The last shot and its relevance mean a lot and show that nothing has changed to this day: money is the one thing that rules the world, to the detriment of love or family.
Seventeen months… this is how long it has been after Karate Kidto have a new score by James Horner to listen to. About as long as it would take to go through the desert. Still, as of the beginning of the film, our patience is fully satisfied with a haunting moment: over more than two minutes, the names of the cast appear on a black screen, thus letting the music play alone. As it is developing, James Horner leads us inside the film, as if he had opened a window to it. It is all in the contrast between Fahad Al Kubaisi’s warm http://, close to Rahat Nusrat Fateh’s http:// in The Four Feathers, and the crystal-clear and fragile sound of the piano. Emotions are here even before the first image appears. The first twenty-five minutes of the film will only confirm this first positive impression: the omnipresent music helps the director introduce his characters and plot. The fact that there are no silence or pauses shows how the director really trusts the composer.
Then, just like in Karate Kid and its great diversity of Orchestration, James Horner presents us a wide range of colors throughout the hundred minutes of music composed for the film: solemnity (with a long and beautiful horn solo) when the two sons, Saleeh and Auda, are separated from their father, softness as they grow up in the gardens of Hobeika, the beauty of vast spaces as a plane flies over the city, irony to show how Nesib (Antonio Banderas) spends his money unselfishly and gets even richer by betraying the pact he made with his rival Amar (Mark Strong), father of the boys… That is the first thing to note: James Horner marvellously conveys all the emotions of each scene of the film, even if some bits of music are evenly used for different moments: the violins we hear in the trailer (after 1’26), are heard again four times to illustrate tragic moments, just like the agitated strings (1’03) followed by thundering trombones (1’14), which are heard whenever it turns menacing.
The second important thing is the fact that Black Gold might be, among James Horner’s scores, the one which is the most built on the repetition of one main theme throughout a film. This theme, a haunting slight reminiscence of a motif by Mahler (already present in Sneakers, Balto, Apollo 13 and Titanic), and which was fully developed in Enemy At The Gates, continues its migration deeper in Horner’s work. The meaning of such theme, the same in all the above-mentioned films, suggests the suffering of bodies and minds, or the breaking point between hope and despair. Such moments are frequently underlined in Black Gold, notably when the characters, lost in the desert, are dying of thirst one after the other. Yet Black Gold widens this thematic migration, as among its numerous variations, James Horner makes this theme his even moreso, infuses it with his own language, and develops new colours to it: the love between a prince and a princess, the joy one feels when finding water, an epic horse ride… At the end of the film, this almost addictive melody remains in our minds and reminds us of all the emotions we felt during the film.
There are two other noticeable themes: whenever childhood and the loss of a beloved person are recalled, a piano or a solo violin reminiscing of Casper’s Lullaby accompany the http:// of the Qatari singer, establishing a beautiful melancholic and intimate mood. Then there is a motif coming from Troy (in The Wooden Horse And The Sacking Of Troy, at almost the 9 minutes mark) which is heard when it is about the quest for power.
“Everything that is valuable can only be conquered by love and blood”, says the main character of the film.
James Horner, who fell in love with the images his friend Jean-Jacques Annaud created over his long stay in the dunes of the Tunisian desert, crafts a majestic score of considerable merit, in total adequacy with the pictures and ideas of the film.
Note: the four-note motif (like the one at the end of Harry’s Resignation in The Four Feathers) discreetly sounds when the death of a character is announced in the film’s second scene.
MEETING WITH JEAN-JACQUES ANNAUD
During the conference that followed the viewing of his film, Jean-Jacques Annaud answers some questions (Le Havre, 2 November 2011).
Thanks to Mr. Annaud for his availibility and his enthusiasm towards our admiration for James Horner's work. He said he was willing to get back to us as soon as he is finished with his long worldwide preview tour of his film.