Last night I watched the film The Impossible starring Ewan McGregor and Naomi Watts about a family who is ripped apart by the 2004 tsunami. I didn’t cry once. I cried several times. The film is emotionally driven as loneliness, loss, empathy, and shared humanity feature in every scene. A welling soundtrack accompanies all of those scenes so that I could anticipate a reunion or deep anxiety along with the character – my heart racing with theirs.
Two weeks ago I watched another celebrated film called Amour from Austrian director Michael Haneke (one of my favourites). The film portrays the care an elderly husband shows his now disabled wife and her response to being disabled – a very complex film with extraordinary characters. No where in the film is a soundtrack used added. There is some live and recorded music, but only music that the characters can hear as well. Because of the absence of a manipulating soundtrack, I share the quiet, loneliness, despair, and heartbrokenness of the characters in their space, in their time (it’s also a very slowly paced movie).
So, which is better? To have a soundtrack or not? Would Schindler’s List have been as powerful without John Williams compositions or Itzhak Perlman’s haunting violin solos? The wisdom of a director and producer to know when a scene can be enhanced by music is more intuitive than formulaic and I do enjoy when that wisdom runs deep.