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Two English Girls...

HE LEFT HIS MARK ON A WHOLE GENERATION OF COMPOSERS.
HIS UNIQUE, UNFORGETTABLE WORKS HAVE TRAVELLED 
TO THE FOUR CORNERS OF THE WORLD…

... and the continent !

by Rémy Grauwin

 

 

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I SYNOPSIS

At the beginning of the 20th century, Anne Brown, a young Englishwoman visiting Paris, makes the acquaintance of Claude Roc. She invites him to Wales with the aim of introducing him to her sister, Muriel. With his mother‚s consent, Claude sojourns for a long while in England, in the company of Anne, Muriel and their mother, Mrs. Brown. 

 

Though released in 1971, Two English Girls is far removed from the liberating ethos that blossomed in May of Œ68. Rather, it recounts the story of a first love subjugated by an austere discipline of the emotions: by the discipline of maternal authority, by a physical incarnation that is always aching and fettered, by childishness, by a lack of daring˜to the point of stagnation, inertia and starved exhaustion˜marked by the sickly refrain of an immature desire that withdraws into itself. 

 

As an accompaniment to this feverish and painful quest for love, the musical narration of Georges Delerue takes the form of three primary leitmotifs: "La promesse d‚amour," "Anne," and "Muriel," as well as a secondary one: "Le bonheur insouciant." 

 

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I THE PROMISE OF LOVE

This theme emerges delicately during the opening credits. But its sparing enunciation by a bass flute already presages the restraint and passivity that will lead to despondency. The theme resurges through the strings, in a quicker cadence, when Claude, growing closer to Muriel, sees the dawning hope of a potential love. The same evocation reappears when Muriel confirms this hope. But then the mothers impose a one-year separation upon them. Muriel and Claude are heartbroken, while the love melody, carried by the melancholy blowing of the flute, comes as a calming caress. 

 

This leitmotif does not appear again until the epilogue, and the ending of the film. Fifteen years have passed. Claude, in his solitude, is overtaken by memories of Muriel. In the window of a taxi that he will never take, he sees his reflection˜the reflection of a worn-out old man. Enshrouded in a ghostly resonance, the flute˜in a final melodic thread that has dwindled to the edge of oblivion˜plays the love theme. His memory has become dim and faded, and his promise has never been kept. 

 

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I ANNE

This leitmotif is carried by a melodic line that is alternately light-hearted and sentimental. Composed in 6/8˜the three-part time that is a source of movement and freedom so dear to Delerue˜Anne‚s theme paints the picture of a desire that is cheerful, forthright and endearing. It accompanies her character‚s daringness and desires for romance and emancipation. 

 

The delicate touch of the piano sings her melody at the beginning of the story when Anne reveals herself to Claude, and then later when, back in Paris, she wiles the young man with her charms. The shimmering timber of the oboe naturally evokes their love˜a love that is consummated but free. The flute tells of Anne‚s graceful love for Claude. And the zither lasciviously lays out the motif to evoke the (dangerous?) rapture of infidelity. 

 

Thus Anne‚s theme wends it way, through the moments and the instruments. 

 

 

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I MURIEL

Muriel‚s theme, an elegiac and graceful cantilena, is a melodic arc that is nearly static in its essence. Its slow tempo, its suspensive cadence, and a gravitational pull that inexorably draws the melody back to its source note paint a picture of solemn and introverted affection. Its swaying, both sensual and monotonous, evokes the neap tide. In opposition to this languorous flow comes a variation that runs counter to the theme: Muriel‚s passion, an undertow of tormented and elusive lyricism. 

 

These musical waves, alternately melancholic and violent, reflect the image of Muriel as a girl who is fascinating and bewitching, but whose uncompromising desire dooms her to a solitary and puritan existence. 

 

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I CAREFREE HAPPINESS

This theme, which only appears three times in the film, is first heard during a bicycle trip that takes the threesome to Flanc de Falaise for an intimate discussion on vice and virtue. It reappears during the trip back, during which Claude delights in viewing Muriel without being seen by her. And lastly it is heard during a long tracking shot just above the surface the water that shows Claude and Anne on the island where they will give themselves to each other. The fine strand of a zither winds along the surface of a satiny veil of strings, embellished with the lace of a harp. This ephemeral ode to happiness weaves a fabric of emotions that is simultaneously romantic, carefree... and ever so fragile. 

 

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I THE MUSICAL NARRATION

Using four leitmotifs, and a very sparing approach, Georges Delerue renders the complexity of romantic desire subjugated to the conjugated designs of the heart, body and mind. The autumnal colors of the orchestration, the restraint of the rhythms and the refinement of the melodies are all used to create an expressive and introspective musical language. 

 

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I EPILOG

Claude disappears behind the heavy doors of the Musée Rodin. And we only realize with hindsight that no musical image has been associated with him at any point during the story. But caught between these women, the loves of his life, has Claude ever really existed in his own right? 

 

 

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