NEW YORK — The name Alexandre Desplat may be relatively unknown to average moviegoers.
But the French film composer, who received the sixth Best Score nomination of his career for his work on Philomena, is well known among Hollywood insiders for providing just the right musical ambiance for a variety of successful films.
He created memorable and prizewinning musical landscapes for Argo, Zero Dark Thirty, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The King's Speech, and two blockbuster Harry Potter films.
Philomena is based on the true story of an Irish woman who, as a teen mother, was forced by nuns to give her 3-year-old son up for adoption. She kept the child's existence a secret for 50 years.
Desplat's challenge was to write music for the film that reflected the title character’s silent longing for her child.
Sound of a Secret
“What is the sound of a secret?” he asked himself.
In answer, Desplat offered up a memorable three-note theme that reappears throughout the film in various permutations.
“It’s almost like a lullaby that she could have sung to her son," he said. "And this lullaby is haunting her.”
A mixture of hope and melancholy are reflected in Desplat's score for Philomena scenes in the Irish countryside, which he recalled from his childhood.
“You’d be inside listening to music, watching this gray weather," he said, "and at the same time the people were so beautifully warm.”
Composer as supporting actor
Desplat’s score conveys excitement and restrained hope when Philomena and Martin, the journalist helping her, travel to America in search of her son.
The composer charged another key scene during their search with bittersweet yearning and nostalgia. That music prepares the audience for the unexpected dramatic twists that unfold during the film’s climax.
Desplat draws on his own emotions and life experiences when composing film scores, but says his job is always to serve the director's vision because he is but one player in the complex collaborative mosaic that makes a film come alive.