Recording of May 1993: Tous les matins du monde (soundtrack)

Jordi Savall, Christophe Coin, bass viols; Les Concert des Nations, Jordi Savall, dir.
Valois/Auvidis V 4640 (CD only). Pierre Verany Studios, production & engineering. DDD. TT: 76:00

Tous les matins du monde is a film about the great 17th-century French violinist, Sainte-Colombe, and his celebrated pupil, Marin Marais. It is also about passion and art in every sense of those words. It is also the finest film about music I have ever seen. Briefly recounted, it tells of how the great master Sainte-Colombe, exiled from the world by his grief for his beloved wife and refusing princely offers to come to Court, agrees nevertheless to take on the young Marais as a student. Soon, however, the pupil is driven away, for he is only interested in learning tricks, not in making music. In spite of this, he manages to have an affair with his master's eldest daughter, Madeleine, whom he eventually betrays, but not before she has taught him her father's secrets. Possessed of these, Marais becomes a great success at Court, but after his lover's death, he discovers a new greed—the desire for music, and in particular those compositions of Sainte-Colombe's which he knows by name but has never heard. This drives him to seek out his old teacher to ask both for knowledge and forgiveness.

If Dante is right, artists are journalists of the darkness; they are compelled to go where others cannot, and bring back reports. Music, Marais finally realizes, exists to say what language cannot. It is this realization that is at the core of Pascal Quignard's moving screenplay. Unlike Amadeus, which, for all its pleasant effects, made of Mozart an idiot savant and of Salieri a bumbling incompetent, Tous les matins never demeans its principals; they are as real in their complexity as flesh-and-blood artists. Filmed in the same light that touches the portraits of Rembrandt, the film is at once gently melancholic, affecting, and truly wise. It both reflects and illuminates the music which fills it, as well as the essential nature of the relationship between the creator and the creation, and even, most touchingly, the line between life and death.

Unlike most films, Tous les matins appears to have been a genuine labor of love for its participants. Guillaume Depardieu (Gerard's son) and Anne Brochet even went so far as to actually learn to play the viol (although we do not hear them). This is, in fact, the one minor flaw—Jean-Piérre Marielle and the elder Depardieu are clearly not playing their instruments. Otherwise, these are performances of remarkable skill; Marielle's austere and forceful Sainte-Colombe contrasts with both Depardieus' worldly Marais (footnote 1), and Brochet gives a portrayal of riveting intensity as the doomed, loving Madeleine.

The producers of this film are also fortunate in having for an unseen actor the world's finest living violist (footnote 2), Jordi Savall. The soundtrack CD is the best introduction I can imagine to 17th-century viol music, wonderfully listenable without ever condescending to its audience. We get a bit of everything here: a grand march by Lully, reflective pieces by Marais and Sainte-Colombe, popular song arrangements by Savall, and best of all, an extraordinary performance of the Troiseme Legon de Ténèbres of Couperin sung gorgeously by Mme. Savall (Montserrat Figueras). My wife even goes around the house humming Une jeune filette. When was the last time you came out of a movie singing the songs? In French?

Sound is a touch dry, but the viols are still wonderfully rich and present. I haven't got a surround-sound decoder, nor am I likely to, but this is just fine in plain old stereo. By the time you read this, Tous les matins du monde will probably have left the theaters, in spite of a remarkably successful run—you'll have to find the video in one of those arty rental places.

Harmonia Mundi (Valois's distributor) is playing up the Tous les matins angle for all it's worth. ("Romance, Passion, Lust, Devotion, Revenge, Intrigue...Discover the Baroque!" reads one publicity sheet.) Good for them. If this flick gets people to listen to such glorious music who would not otherwise have come near it, I will never complain.—Les Berkley

Footnote 1: I believe the trick of having father and son play the same man at different times of his life is not original to this movie.

Footnote 2: So says Peter Phillips, director of the Tallis Scholars, and who am I to argue with him?