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The Italian Key by Tuomas Kantelinen

The Italian Key

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The Italian Key (Soundtrack) by Tuomas Kantelinen

The Italian Key
Composed by Tuomas Kantelinen
Promotional Release (2011)

Rating: 6/10


...the quality is pleasurably consistent throughout the entire album.

The Italian Violin
Review by Helen San

THE ITALIAN KEY is a Finnish English-language feature film, a modern fable about a 19 year old orphan named Cabella who is left homeless after her caretaker, Max, dies. Her only inheritance is a key to an empty, run-down villa, located in a town in Italy called Cabella, of all things. With nowhere else to go, it only feels like destiny to move to the villa in a town she was named after. She makes new friends and finds the truth about her parents, her family, and her past. The picture was filmed on location in the UK, Italy, and India.

In the period before theatrical release, THE ITALIAN KEY has already won several minor film festival awards, including the Las Vegas Film Festival , Honolulu Film Awards, and Feel Good Film Awards (Best Feel Good Feature Film). What is more relevant to this review is that THE ITALIAN KEY score by composer TUOMAS KANTELINEN also won the top honor (Outstanding Achievement) at the 2011 Park City Film Music Festival for both the director's and audience choices.

This movie is about finding hope despite loneliness, finding family despite loss, and finding love despite time. It is about finding your dreams and heart's desires if you don't give up. The score, then, is about pulling heartstrings, complete with nostalgic violins, pain-laden piano, and track titles like "Mother's Tears." When you think of a soundtrack to a sob story (homeless orphan, anyone?), you can almost see a violin section magically spring up behind the storyteller. THE ITALIAN KEY would be that soundtrack. Most of the music tends to vacillate between affettuoso (with emotion) and lacrimoso (with tears). But it is a feel good movie after all, so the score thankfully also carries an infusion of hope and yearning, repeated just often enough to make it interesting.

This is one of those scores is infinitely much stronger on screen than on CD, and much stronger for those who have seen the film than who haven't. With as many as 10 different character-based themes, it is hard to tell them apart without the memory of who these characters are. Outside of the film's context , the many leitmotifs blend into each other anonymously and can sound like amorphous sad music. I am reminded of how I felt about HANS ZIMMER's INCEPTION or MARK KNOPFLER's PRINCESS BRIDE before and after I saw the films. Certain scores require the emotional attachment to the story to give the nuances definition. THE ITALIAN KEY is one of them. If you'll humor a little nitpicking, it doesn't help that the tracks were listed in alphabetical order, instead of in order of appearance in the film. This makes it extra hard to put the listening experience in context of the story.

KANTELINEN's overall style makes me think a little of ROLFE KENT, a little of RACHEL PORTMAN, and sometimes, even a little bit of DEBBIE WISEMAN. He likes intimate, character driven themes, with lush (sometimes sweeping) strings punctuated by melodic percussions or the occasional oboe. There are at least ten themes related to characters: Alexander, Angelo, Cabella, Chiara, Fabian, Ghost Boy, Lord Jai, Max, Mother, and Twins (yes, alphabetical order). Out of these, Ghost Boy (17) stands out as probably the strongest and most expressive on the soundtrack, starting with a symphony of strings and woodwinds and ending quietly with a mallet instrument harmony. Alexander's Piano (1) comes in a close second, a beautifully performed, grand, patriarchal, and stately piano piece. Incidentally, Alexander's Piano Variation (2) is not really a variation, but a supplemental cue with mostly bass strings and not a lot of piano, softly accompanying a scene when Alexander first appears. Chiara sounds like the saddest character in the film, and is presented in two versions, "softer" and "variation." Chiara's Theme Variation (10) is sharper and more poignant than Chiara's Theme Softer (9). The themes for Ghost Boy and Chiara are the most recurrent ones.

The other characters have a more unique and singular presence on the soundtrack. Lord Jai (23) takes you to exotic India, with a majestic presence of Indian instruments and vocals. Twins (32) breaks the mournful pace with comedic, syncopated PORTMAN-esque strings. Fabian (15), a more introspective theme, starts with tentative woodwinds and pizzicato, followed immediately by Fabian 2 (16) into a rushing string finale. Angelo's Goodbye (3) feels like a hug from a cup of hot chocolate, a memorable, warm, and affectionate string motif. The theme for Max (24) is back to the mournful and sounds exactly like what it is supposed to be, a dignified homage to a beloved surrogate parent. Mother's Tears (25), otherwise known as heartache-in-a-bottle, simply just makes you want to cry. (If it doesn't make you at least *think* about tearing up, you might want to seek medical attention.) Cabella's theme (8) was the only one that I felt was somewhat nondescript, just more of the same set of sad strings and piano.

Outside of character motifs, the album has several other noteworthy cues. Arriving at the House (4) captures wonder, spookiness, and apprehension perfectly, blending in that Ghost Boy theme I like so much. Daydream Swimming (12) introduced a repetitive, lilting motif that makes me think of dolphins roaming around aimlessly in a documentary. A similar style is heard in both Prologue (24) and Epilogue (13). I'm not particularly fond of it, but Prologue develops the theme passionately enough that it makes a much, much better listen. Prologue also has an especially determined piano theme at the end that I wish there were more of in the score. The rest of the cues, such as How Do You Mend a Broken Heart? (19) or In This Life (20), tends to become indistinguishable in the vast pool of pensive, wistful strings.

Playfulness and small bits of happiness are also an important part of the album, providing a much needed contrast to the melodrama. Comedy is central in Ballet Scene (5), Sister's Pizzicato (27), and Three Sisters (31). Cooking and Gossiping (11) introduces a fun, frisky theme that is heard again in Tea Time (30). Happy Girls in Sunny Italy (18) surprises us with a tenor banjo and accordion in a folksy Italian waltz. Vespa Drive (33) offers brief exhilaration in the album, the second cue featuring a PORTMAN-like style.

In summary, I had a vastly different listening experience before and after I saw the film. Beforehand, while none of the tracks struck me as outstanding (nothing screamed out five stars), the quality was pleasurably consistent throughout the entire album. As heard on screen, the score was absolutely stellar, easily earning a 9 out of 10. This review and its rating is of the soundtrack alone. Be sure to see the film to hear the score the way it was meant to be heard.

Rating: 6/10


Track Title Track Time  Rating
1 Alexander's Piano 2:50  ****
2 Alexander's Piano Variation 1:44  **
3 Angelo's Goodbye 3:30  ***
4 Ariving at the House 2:44  ***
5 Ballet Scene 3:16  ***
6 Beautiful Gestures 1:27  ***
7 Beginning 1:35  **
8 Cabella 1:34  **
9 Chiara's Theme softer 2:26  ***
10 Chiara's Theme Variation 2:25  ***
11 Cooking the Gossping 1:45  ***
12 Daydream Swimming 4:30  **
13 Epilogue 4:16  ***
14 Everyone's Lost Someone 5:55  ***
15 Fabian 0:59  **
16 Fabian 2 0:35  ***
17 Ghost Boy 1:05  ****
18 Happy Girls in Sunny Italy 0:41  ***
19 How Do You Mend a Broken Heart 1:36  ***
20 In This Life 1:45  ***
21 Key Theme 0:45  **
22 Last Breath 2:55  ***
23 Lord Jai 4:54  ***
24 Max's Theme 1:48  ***
25 Mother's Tears 3:05  ****
26 Prologue 4:16  ***
27 Sister's Pizzicato 2:30  ***
28 Small Mystery 0:34  **
29 Sunflower Field 3:25  ***
30 Tea Time 1:39  ***
31 Three Sisters 1:16  ***
32 Twins 4:00  ****
33 Vespa Drive 2:20  ****
  Total Running Time (approx) 78 minutes  


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