Film: Requiem for my friend the director

The late Polish director Krzysztof Kieslowski is being remembered in a short festival this weekend. The maker of a new documentary tells David Winner about the man, while Nick Kimberley looks at film music and a work written in memory of the dead film-maker
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The Independent Culture
WHETHER IN the flea-pit or the art-house, it's difficult to imagine cinema without music. Indeed, for some film-makers, music enters the cinematic process at the very beginning, as in the collaboration between the director Theo Angelopoulos and the composer Eleni Karaindrou. The latest film on which they collaborated, Eternity and a Day, opens in Britain in May.

Karaindrou remembers their first film together: "That was Voyage to Cythera in 1984. Angelopoulos told me the story. I saw no image, not even a script, just what he told me in that four-hour session. I grasped what he was looking for and the next day I worked out my themes at the piano. Two days later I went back. He liked what he heard and asked me to record it with an orchestra, then he'd see where he could place the music in the film. So I completed my music before any of the shooting started. It's not the usual way of working, although I've heard that Fellini and Nino Rota often worked that way."

The Polish composer Zbigniew Preisner is best known for his scores for Kieslowski's films (including the Three Colours trilogy and The Double Life of Veronique). His experience of the score-writing process embraces most options: "I've written scores for almost 100 films. With Kieslowski, I would be involved from the beginning to the end of the process but, especially with American movies, you're often called in at the last stage, and you simply get on with the job.

"A lot of the time, I feel that directors don't understand how music works in film. It's not important for them; it's like a carpet going all the way through. In film, though, silence is important and the music has to prepare a space for that silence, which is often the best music. I enjoy seeing how the film changes with the music, discovering what sort of meaning my music can give the film image. If the director trusts the composer, everything works better. That's how it was, I think, writing for Kieslowski."

Karaindrou readily admits that working with Angelopoulos has been a formative experience. "When you work with a director like him, composing becomes a sort of psychoanalytic exercise. You have to dig within yourself to find the atmosphere to match that vision. I make my music, not from screen images, but from interior ones, created by ideas or feelings. I don't like music that simply describes situations or underlines them. There has to be a chemistry that uncovers what's behind the images. Otherwise it becomes a kids' fairy story."

Preisner talks of creating a "climate" with his music for Kieslowski's films, yet he ruefully admits: "When you compose for a film, you depend on input from the director, the studio staff, the producers, and of course sometimes you write music for a film that doesn't touch you because, in effect, somebody has placed an order and you have to meet their deadline. I can't work without deadlines, but when you write for the concert hall, you are freer, more independent."

So it is that Preisner has written his first concert piece, Requiem for my Friend, which receives its UK premiere tomorrow. "I'd become interested in mounting a concert, something like an opera or a mystery play. Kieslowski wanted to provide the mise-en-scene, and we talked about calling it The Mystery of Life. We were planning to put it on in the Acropolis in Athens. But Kieslowski died in 1996, and I composed some music for his funeral, with just organ and voice. Later I thought I should do a concert as a way of saying something about our life and work together. I recomposed part of the music that I`'d written for his funeral. The result became Requiem for my Friend."

Hardly a 20th-century composer has not been tempted by what cinema offers. As Karaindrou says, "Good film music is music that digs beneath the surface of situations", a description that holds good for the concert hall, the opera house and the ballet. Film is simply another idiom for composers to grapple with, and if the music that Preisner and Karaindrou write for the concert hall has been inflected by their film experiences, that proves that the relationship between cinema and concert hall is not a parasitic one, but symbiotic.


Preisner's `Requiem for my Friend' can be heard tomorrow at the Royal Festival Hall, London (0171-960 4242); the recording is available on Erato. Kalaindrou's scores for Angelopoulos's films are available on CD: `Ulysses' Gaze' and `Eternity and a Day' (both on ECM)