by James Mottram

Since then, they’ve collaborated on Moonrise Kingdom, The Grand Budapest Hotel, which won Desplat an Oscar, Isle of Dogs and now The French Dispatch, another typically esoteric Anderson confection.

Set in a fictional French town in the 1950s, all around a newspaper supplement office run by Bill Murray’s droll editor, Anderson’s film consists of three stories – ‘articles’ in the latest edition.

Among them, Benicio Del Toro’s imprisoned artist and a student revolution led by Timothée Chalamet’s activist.

During this year’s Cannes Film Festival, FilmInk sat down with Desplat to discuss working with Wes Anderson, his approach to his career and his new score for Guillermo del Toro’s upcoming noir Nightmare Alley.

The French Dispatch is your fifth collaboration with Wes Anderson. What keeps it fresh?

“Inspiration, fun, finding the tone. But you notice that the music is rarely dark. There’s always light in the music that I write for Wes. So, it’s never taking the music to a dark place. Even though there may be something dark in the film, something thriller-ish, the music doesn’t play that way. It stays in a zone. With Wes, we have a range that is more compressed, there’s a compression of emotions that we keep so that it’s never going too dark or too goofy.”

Do you have a favourite score that you’ve done for Wes?

“I’ve thought about putting a suite together of Wes’ movies. And I love Fantastic Mr. Fox, but the pieces are too short. I would need to rewrite them. So yes, Fantastic Mr. Fox, but the long version that one day I will rewrite! Otherwise. I think in all of them there’s one moment that I like. In Moonrise Kingdom, there’s moments I like and Grand Budapest, I like. Maybe Fox and Budapest, I would say.”

When you started out on The French Dispatch, did Wes give you musical inspirations to work from?

“Well, no, not of the era, not of the ’50s. Usually, when you work with Wes, he comes with an idea. He would say, ‘How about in this film, we use forty mandolins and zithers?’ And then, soon it becomes Grand Budapest. Or ‘I’m doing this Japanese animation. We need to have Taikos and something else!’ And then we think, ‘Okay, Taikos. What could we add? Maybe we could have many saxophones.’ So, we have eight saxophones and whatever. So, we think about instrumentation. For Fantastic Mr. Fox, I said, ‘We shouldn’t have a big symphonic orchestra like they use in animation usually. Keep it small, because it’s little puppets. Let’s make a mini-orchestra with little instruments, a little glockenspiel and the little banjo’ and so, that’s what we did at the time.”

What were your initial feelings when you saw The French Dispatch?

“For this one, I said that this movie is so eccentric, and so unpredictable, that to me, it’s Dadaist! We should think about that. And Dada is the beginning of the 20th century. We have these unpredictable performances. And now, the character of Timothée Chalamet with his hair and the erotic relationship between Benicio [Del Toro] and Léa Seydoux are totally Dada to me. We decided that we would have something sparse for this moment in the prison. And for the rest, we just tried to keep it with pace, momentum, and with an orchestra, which is not too big either. A lot of dialogue, lots of images, lots of information that your eye has to capture and process… if the music had been all over the place, it could have been horrible. Too much. So, then we get to do something else, which means slowing down with a lot of transparency, very few instruments, recurring motifs… so that there’s continuity through the film. And a tuba! And a harpsichord!”

Do you feel it’s important to have a long relationship with a director?

“Well, each relationship with the director has its own qualities and failures. It’s a balance of things. And I’ve been lucky, very lucky, to work with directors: George Clooney, Jacques Audiard, Roman Polanski and Guillermo Del Toro now. Wes, we’re just starting our sixth movie [Asteroid City]. So, from all these collaborations you build a proximity between your identity, your integrity and the film and the filmmaker’s world. Because all these filmmakers that I mentioned, they hear music in their heads when they do their films. They know about what they want. They trust me to come with my sensitivity and bring something that is near to what they hear. So, the interesting thing about Wes is that it’s always an exploration. It’s always something that we haven’t done before. That’s somehow the goal. There’s a director called Philippe de Broca, who did great movies like That Man From Rio with Jean-Paul Belmondo. I’ve worked with him on two or three movies at the end of his life. He wrote the script of his films, and he would decide, ‘Okay, where have I never been on the planet?’ And he would write the script to go to the place: Greece, China, Brazil. Because shooting is long. I’d rather go to a place that I don’t know that I would enjoy. Okay, it’s the same way with Wes. We start a new project. Where haven’t we been together before? We’ve done Fantastic Mr. Fox. We’ve done the taiko drums in Isle of Dogs. What could we do here? Or the introduction of an orchestra in Moonrise Kingdom… what could we do with this one? It’s always how we start to play. We want it to be playful, fun, quick, because we work very fast and unexpected.”

You’ve scored so many movies. How do you keep your work fresh?

“By changing projects. By not doing The Girl with a Pearl Earring twice. And Wes, every movie is different, though it’s Wes’ world. That’s the only way I found. Otherwise, I would be gone already doing something else. I’d be bored and you’d be bored by listening to the same music again and again. But unfortunately, the industry of cinema is made of fear. They’re afraid to take chances often. Some studios do – Searchlight does. They’re very brave in trying to do films that are different. But people call me, they want to hear what I’ve done before. But I don’t want to do what I’ve done 10-15 years ago. Why would I do Girl with a Pearl Earring again? So, if I have a script coming to me – Holland 17th Century – I’ll say I don’t want to go back. With Wes, the great thing is that every story’s so bonkers, there’s a full space that’s opened.”

How much time does it take to compose the score for you?

“Depends. If it’s a big machine like Harry Potter, it takes you two months and a half. But it is two hours and twenty minutes of music. It’s a huge, huge, huge work. It’s very tiring, very demanding in terms of hours. So, we need more time. But I like to go fast. I like my ideas to be sharp, and if I have too much time on a medium-sized movie, you have too much time and lose the… I don’t know, I lose the energy. I need to be focused and in a trance, and I can find the ideas and after the ideas come the ideas and from an idea comes another idea and so… The Queen I think was two weeks. They did some retakes. Imitation Game was also two or three weeks max. That was when I was young.”

You’ve also got Guillermo del Toro’s Nightmare Alley on the way. Did you watch the original 1947 movie?

“I saw it late. I was already way into the film. One evening, I thought, ‘What could we watch? Oh, let’s watch the original.’ Well, it’s very similar because it’s a remake. But it’s very different. Because the way Guillermo shoots is so incredibly lush and magnificent. It’s not feeling the same way. It’s very film noir of the ’40s, square frame, lots of close ups, very small rooms. But with Guillermo, it’s fantastically beautiful. It’s more Mexican!”

Are you recreating that film noir sound?

“I know my film noirs very well. All these great composers, of the ’40s-’50s. There’s a hint of that. The only thing that again that I brought in, in Nightmare Alley, is a great soloist, a French violinist. So, there’s a big part of solo violin on top of the orchestra, which sounds, of course, much more of the ’40s. There was a lot of that in Laura or all these great movies.”

Is there a genre of film you would love to compose music for?

“I think I went through many, many styles already, even a western. Something I haven’t done is a horror movie. But I’m doing one very soon. A very cheesy [one]… on purpose! With Michel Hazanavičius.”

The French Dispatch opens in cinemas on December 9. Nightmare Alley is released on January 20.

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