I was a teenager when I first watched Jean-Jacques Annaud’s The Lover. Yes, I had an awakening a la Kate Chopin. But what made me linger in my seat afterwards to watch the credits roll by was the desire to listen to more of the music. The sensual main theme had me both enraptured by the sense of discovery of my own sexuality and sweetly lulled by the simplicity of its mellifluous beauty.
I bought the soundtrack immediately and listened to it over and over again. The composer is Gabriel Yared, a native of Beirut, Lebanon. He is best known for his recent original work in The English Patient (for which he won an Oscar in 1997), The Talented Mr. Ripley (for which he was nominated for an Oscar in 2000), and Cold Mountain (for which he was nominated for an Oscar in 2004). His work for The Lover (1992) and his unabashedly romantic original score for Camille Claudel (1988) presaged the poetry, passion, and graceful yearning that mark many of his compositions.
To be sure, the soundtrack for The Lover is not all original. Included are period pieces that take you back to 1950s Indochina when both Western and Chinese music, such as the foxtrot and the traditional Chinese wedding march, were imposed on indigenous culture. There is also the inclusion of Chopin’s Waltz in B Minor, that most delicate of nocturnal cries. Thus, while I am giving a happy nod to the musical arrangement, it is the main theme that I am lavishing my praise for. You will hear it repeatedly—beginning with a short interlude, a few more bars, then in its entirety with a selection named after the film title, “The Lover.” What is most noteworthy is that you will hear it played by different families of instruments. It is only when strings, winds, percussions, and piano come together that the composition takes flight, allowing you to inhale its beauty and go deep into yourself.
While listening, you may be visited by this sense of innocence finding passion. The delicate pianissimo trills provide a glimpse of a blushing ingénue. Yet the power of the flourishing crescendo conveys an incremental, willful surrender. Although the piece is tinged with the melancholy of a farewell, the aura it creates is The Beginning: entrance into young adulthood, first loves, and the passé notion of the deflowering of a maid.
I recently found my copy and, once again, am amazed at how music acts like a recorder of emotional memories. As it did then, it happens to me all over again. Listening to it, I am immediately transported to the bedroom of my youth, legs dangling in the air, precocious profundities at the tip of my tongue. I recall the many hours spent talking on the phone with dear friends until the early hours of dawn. At one point, I would tell them that I had to play something for them. “Hold on,” I would say as I scrambled to play early morning deejay. Supporting a speaker against the receiver, I would close my eyes, welcoming the all-encompassing sensation of being touched for the very first time.