Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Tous les matins du monde (All the World's Mornings)

One of my favorite past times over the last few years has been the almost daily walk to the local library in Queen Anne. It saddens me that hours have been reduced due to budget cuts. I have met countless friends and kindred spirits there. All I've had to do is reach round the shelves, and the borders between past and present have seemed to melt away in my fingertips. For a while it was Russia and everything Russian. I couldn't leave my local branch without a bagful of Gogol, Chekhov and Dostoevsky. Russian films were another matter; my Finnish husband pleading with me to turn down the volume on our DVD player; the Russian language reminding him of the difficulties his family endured during the Talvisota or Winter War. He is, no doubt, relieved that I've moved on to French films, but what my husband doesn't know--yet--is that I have a harmless crush on French actor Gerard Depardieu.

My interest in Depardieu began with a viewing of "Le Pacte du Silence" a psychologically gripping film with this underlying message: There are two sides to every secret, especially when the truth behind the secret is a lie. In this movie Depardieu plays Doctor Joachim Ferrer, a Jesuit priest devoted to a life of service for the church while seeking refuge from a violent past.

Searching for Gerard Depardieu films on a regular basis causes my daughter, Sarah, to stifle giggles; her mother has reverted to adolescent behavior. A few days ago, I struck gold when I laid eyes on Alain Corneau's 1991 film "Tous les matins du monde" on the return video cart. Although "All the World's Mornings" was one of the most celebrated motion pictures to explore the art of music, I wasn't aware of its existence. I glanced at the cover while fingering Depardieu's name, then clutched the DVD and headed straight for the check out.

Set in seventeenth-century France, "All the World's Mornings," based on the short novel by Pascal Quignard, weaves a tale around the life of composer and viol player Monsieur de Sainte-Colombe, a solitary widower and musical genius who rejects the king's invitation to be a court musician. He chooses, instead, a reclusive life dedicated to the service of music, and the upbringing of his two young daughters. He lives in a hut on a remote country farm. The private, ghostly visitations of Sainte-Colombe's deceased wife, as she sits by a candlelit table topped with a flask of wine, urging her husband to write his compositions down in a manuscript book bound in Moroccan red leather while he plays the viol, enables the onlooker to sense the timeless communal bond transmitted between souls through music.

One spring, an ambitious young man by the name of Marin Marais, approached the master in his hut to be accepted as his student of the viol. Marais had heard of Sainte-Colombe's fame which was received by the placing of a seventh string on the instrument. This enabled the instrument to encompass all the registers of a human voice; that of a child, that of a woman, that of a man, broken and grave. Sainte-Colombe expressed his reservations of accepting the new student after hearing the eager youth play for him:  
You know the correct position of the body.Your ornaments are ingenious and sometimes charming. But I did not hear any music. The master continues. You could be a help in the dancing of people who dance. You could accompany actors who sing on the stage. You will earn a living.You will live surrounded by music but you will not be a musician. Have you a feeling heart? Have you a thinking brain?

What unfolds in the narrative is a relationship fraught with conflict and rivalry, complicated by the young Marin Marais' passionate love affair with one of Monsieur de Sainte-Colombe's daughters.

An opening shot of the film is sustained for an amazing six minutes on Marin Marais (Depardieu) now powdered, bewigged and elderly (but still, in my eyes, handsome) as a court musician in Versailles, while he reflects in a remorseful tone of voice reminiscences about his beloved teacher, now dead:   
I had a teacher and the shadows took him. He was all austerity and rage, as mute as a fish. I am an impostor. He was Music. 
But, alas, the specter of Saint-Colombe appears in the doorway, and reassures Marais:  
I was proud to have been your teacher.

"Tous les matins du monde" is a profound meditation on the sacred relationship between master and student on a quest to discover and attain the highest realm of music. The shadows took Sainte-Colombe, as his student recalls, in the sense that we are left without knowledge of when or where the composer died but, thankfully, we do have many of his compositions, as featured by Catalan viol player Jordi Savall, the King of Spain on the film. Savall's performance throughout the movie bathes the listener in a wash of dreamy sonority. To hear the beauty of Savall's tone and interpretative style of works by composers Sainte-Colombe and Marais on the soundtrack of "Tous les matins du monde" is a lesson in itself.

This is one DVD that I will have to purchase and own before returning it to the library; another life-long friend.
Illustrations: Cover of All the World's Mornings
Painting of Marin Marais

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