Evgueni Galperine is one of the most highly-demanded composers in Europe. He has composed music for big Hollywood films, such as “Hunger Games”, Luc Besson’s and Andrey Zvyagintsev’s films. Although he lives in Paris, he remembers his childhood in Podil in Kyiv. He also follows Ukrainian news. Opinion asked the artist about French people’s concern for Oleh Sentsov, atmosphere at the Cannes Festival, and why we don’t remember any scene from blockbusters the next day after watching.
Evgueni, you have been living in France for 25 years already. You don’t often come to former USSR countries. What do you feel when you come here? Do you feel more like a guest or a Kyivan from Podil (historical district in the centre of Kyiv)?
It is a very strange feeling, because everything here is close for me, but now I already belong to a completely another world. I don’t want to feel here like a foreigner. It is especially hard for the first days. When I come back to Kyiv – the city where I was living for long time, first days I observe and try to imitate people: how they buy trolleybus, metro tickets, how they talk. It is strange for me to feel like a foreigner here. I get comforted after several days when I take new manners of people and begin feeling at home.
Anyway, in the “Loveless” film [by Andrey Zvyagintsev – ED.], you managed to convey complicated national reality of a Russian town. Was this music based on your memories\ impressions from childhood or you delved into the theme in another way?
As you know, I was writing music without having watched the film. When I was creating it, I didn’t think about any Russian town or about anything Russian at all. The only thing I had in my head – I wanted to write music. Of course, I had watched Zvyagintsev’s films to realize what role music was playing in his films. But I only tried to feel emotions of the main characters: what is going on inside of parents’ heads when they lose their child. I tried to feel how it is when the whole complicated world: hatred, divorces, cars-apartments and lovers – everything fades away and there is only darkness.
When a composer can’t see a picture, it is a very powerful tool. You start to dig inside of yourself more deeply, you imagine and think more. It gives more powerful result, and you don’t fall back on a picture like on crutches: for example, when running means dynamic music. I didn’t have it. As the result, some people said that I had written music about a totalitarian society, where child disappears and never comes back. I didn’t have such ideas. I just tried to convey feelings and emotions of people who have the only problem, and they can’t think about anything else.
You wrote music without having seen the screenplay and watching a workprint version. Was it extremely hard or extremely simple?
We were working with my brother Sacha for several weeks, created some pieces of music, but it wasn’t what we needed. Andrey didn’t answer yet, but I already realized that it wasn’t what we needed. I felt that it was too much of “film music”. And we had to fill the film with our independent music. From the second try, I started to write a play “11 cycles”. I decided to depict music with only one chord in order to depict a constant pain, which never leaves. I was sure that this music won’t be used in the film because it was too replete. When I sent to Zvyagintsev the half of this material, he answered that it suited the best. When I saw how Andrey put it in the film, there was a feeling of a miracle: music didn’t just suited, it completed the film.
By the way, Zvyagintsev is the only director, who asked not to turn on the light during captions. For him, they are the continuation of the film. Music, which plays during the captions, must create a certain mood. Many critics highlighted that it gave a new view on the film.
Meanwhile, Asghar Farhadi [Iranian director, has two Oscar awards. Galperine worked with him on “The Past” film – ED.] was checking almost every note and edited your music a lot. What does a composer feel at such moments?
I was realizing that if he was doing so, it meant he had to do so, and I had to forget about my ego for some time and become more humble. He had his vision of the music, and my aim was to explain him everything. We met with Asghar Farhadi for the first time, and I played for him a play which my father had composed. Then we were working on this piece of music for three weeks, and as the result, we created a new composition. The director was asking to play one note earlier or later. He is not a musician, however he understands where music needs to be quieter or louder. Finally, we came to the common ground.
Then Luc Besson is a golden mean? [Galperine wrote music for his film “Malavita” – ED.]
It is completely another method of work. Music language and code of films in Zvyagintsev’s and Farhadi’s films are far more complicated. Besson’s music language is clear for everybody – it is popular cinema. When millions of dollars and a big finance responsibility are involved, compromise between creativity and commerce should be found. When working with Besson, you should write something fresh, vivid, but in the way, everybody will understand it, because the film has wide audience. It is difficult.
In 2015 you wrote music for the film “Battle for Sevastopol”, which was translated as “Indestructible” in Ukrainian. Why did you take on this project? Obviously, it is not as lucrative as working on European projects. Did you want to support Ukrainian cinema?
I liked the topic of the film. A very attractive character – a Ukrainian sniper Liudmila Pavlichenko. Especially, at the moment, when the war between Ukraine and Russia began. It was a shock and trauma for me, this film in the peak of the conflict was a desire to support those who opposed everything which was happening in 2014. I had a friend who fought in Donbass, he was a Ukrainian singer. He died there when I was in France, I discussed with him whether it was morally right to shoot such films. He supported me. I wouldn’t get involved in propaganda. A Ukrainian-Russian film seemed to me a good idea. Given the fact that I liked the story very much. At that moment, I could afford to work on an uncommercial project. I considered it important. As the result, we managed to create a good anti-military film, I don’t regret about anything.
Let’s speak on Crimea and its main story at the moment. Oleh Sentsov has been starving for 40 days now. How do people in your environment treat this situation? Does it disturb a local cultural community at all? Or is it just an attempt of Ukrainians to comfort and persuade themselves that Europe cares?
The Sentsov case is the act of totalitarian ad authoritarian state against a human. A sham execution and Putin’s statement that he can’t interfere in the court’s sentence – is a special cynicism. The crimination is based on empty evidence… Yes, we care in France, we speak about it. But it is far from us, and let’s be honest, it is not that doesn’t let people sleep in Paris. But the fact that Europeans care and speak about it, and the “FreeSentsov’ hashtag appeared on screens before every film at Cannes, means that the world community has commitment. They can’t fail to care, but I admit that many of people care only because it is popular to care about it now. Of course, there you feel it not as strongly as here, in Ukraine. By the way, we have to give proper respect to Russian colleagues at the Russian festival “Kinotavr”. Each award winner said from the stage “Free Oleh Sentsov and Kirill Serebrennikov”. It is clear that this action may lead to serious problems. I don’t know whether we will influence the situation, but we are doing it because it is important.
Let’s speak about Ukrainian cinema. The Odesa Film Festival starts in some weeks. You were a jury in the last year. Was it difficult to become not a participant of the festival but a jury of your colleagues?
You shouldn’t overestimate your role. You are just a jury at a great festival, which takes place in Odesa. Every director should realize that the Jury Award is only an award of the jury, and they don’t deliver the verdict: whether it is good or bad film. Let’s get back to Zvyagintsev. Virtually all critics considered his film to be the main Oscar contender to get the Best Foreign Language Film and the Golden Palm at the Cannes. When it was announced that the “Loveless” received a special Jury Award – several people jumped up from their chairs and started to scream, “No, no! It is the Golden Palm!” It is just a decision of the jury. If we look at the history of the festival, we’ll see that there are always good films which weren’t awarded. It should be also mentioned that many awards are meritable, they are given not for one film but for the contribution to the cinema industry. It happened to Tarkovskyi and Bresson. The latter threw away his award in anger and then repeated it with pleasure several times for journalists. Andrey Tarkovskyi accepted the award and said merci beacoup, but he also looked like he wasn’t happy.
Some directors are told to shoot some of their films specially for certain festivals and awards…
It is true for hundred percent, but no director will admit it. Even more, some directors can’t admit it to themselves. Many directors shoot films for the Cannes, perhaps, they do it subconsciously, but their main aim is to manage to do it before the festival and take part in the competition. It is a very strong drug when you are put into the bath with oils, massaged and stroked. It is hard to give it up. That’s why the Cannes – is the main award for a director. They bask in the glory and get attention from the world the whole week.
During the Golden Age of Hollywood, composers were writing music for blockbusters as well as for independent movies. From a common point of view, is there a strict distinction: box-office films tend to put in films as many pop songs as possible, while independent films use complicated music? Is there such a tendency? And what is a perfect soundtrack for a 2018 film, in your opinion?
Blockbusters have a very primitive task: using sound, as a magnifier, to enlarge everything which is happening on the screen. This music is really the same in every film. Songs are more often used to attract wide audience. The tendency is to keep audience in a constant pressure, that’s why films feed audience with an exaggerated information. And then people think after the screening: what do they remember from the film at all? You watch it like a firework. The most important for studios is your money.
A perfect soundtrack is that, which doesn’t consider people idiots and give them space. Let audience finish the idea. It will be remembered far better. Silence is the first and the main rule of every composer.
By Kostiantyn Rul
Photo by Sasha Naselenko