TO REST IN PEACE – Leah Curtis

Original Review by Alan RogersTo Rest In Peace

Written and directed by Fawaz Al-Matrouk, To Rest In Peace is a short film that examines the inner strength shown by seemingly ordinary people when they find themselves in severe situations. Inspired by true events, the film is set in Kuwait during the first Gulf War. Day after day, a local Kuwaiti man passes two dead bodies in the street and no one seems to be taking responsibility for their burial. The bodies have been left in the street as an example from the occupying Iraqis to those considering becoming resistance fighters. After coming to terms with his own fear of death for his actions and the possible repercussions for his family, the man’s over-riding respect for human dignity compels him to bury the bodies himself.

Requiring a score that centres on reflecting the inner man’s conflict and the preservation of human dignity over the strongest oppression forces, the composer turns to Leah Curtis. Receiving early encouragement from fellow Australian Christopher Gordon at the beginning of her career, Curtis is an up-and-coming composer who, as well as undertaking an increasing number of scoring duties in films (as well as composing several contemporary classical pieces), has orchestrated for composers such as Alex Wurman (Something Borrowed) and Johnny Klimek & Reinhold Heil (One Missed Call, The Cave). For To Rest In Peace, the Australian composer delivers a score that succeeds in portraying the battle of one man’s humanity over his own fears for himself and his family. Written for strings (violins, viola and cello), percussion, ethnic instruments (duduk and oud) and female vocals, the score opens with “Opening Titles (To Rest In Peace)” where duduk and oud establishes the Kuwaiti locale. Although this opening cue features strong ethnic colours, the score overall does not overuse these elements. Rather, they are used as supporting instruments for the strings (as well as the vocals) and it is these latter instruments that are the workhorse of the score, providing both a mournful as well as a dignified feel to the music depending upon the requirements.

The centre-piece of this short score is the theme heard (at its fullest) in the final cue, “Salamun Salam (Peace of Peace)”. A powerful statement of the theme in the strings, together with a combination of sung lyrics and wordless vocals – ably provided by Lisbeth Scott – brings the score to an uplifting conclusion. Earlier, snippets of the theme can be heard, mirroring the man’s internal conflicts (e.g., “The End of Civility”). In “The End of Civility”, strings and Scott’s wordless vocals plays as a lament to humanity that is being suffocated by the invading forces and also to the reluctance of the local population to rise up against the oppression. But then in the following cue, “Embrace of Nature”, strong solo strings takes up the theme and with the addition of an insistent plucked-string ostinato, the theme heard in “Salamun Salam” is transformed into a statement of honour and humanity with a resolve to persevere against adversity. “Last Hope” contains elements from both “The End of Civility” and “Embrace of Nature” and suggests the struggle between humanity and the advancing oppressive force.

On initial examination, a score to a film set in the Middle East and featuring instruments such as duduk and oud plus the inclusion of wailing female vocals is likely to have some raising their eyebrows in consternation: “this is something we have heard a hundred times before”. But I think that Leah Curtis has managed to strike a good balance between using enough ethnic colours to establish a sense of place (most of the film is, after all, filmed in Southern California) but not to overdo using these musical devices, making it sound forced. But to just talk about the ethnic influences and how well it is used in the score is to miss the bigger part of this score. Curtis’ theme and the way she uses it to describe the various issues of the film is the great success of this score. By modifying the theme in subtle ways (e.g., emphasising with different parts of the string ensemble, adding percussion, etc.), it can be used to reflect the various conflicts that are central to the film. The quality of this score (and, more specifically, the theme) is reflected in a Best Original Score nomination and Best World Song success at the Hollywood Music In Media awards in 2010 and a 3rd Place in the Best Impact In Music In A Short Film award at the Park City Film Music Festival in 2012 (the Park City Film Music Festival is a celebration of the impact of music in film). The recording sounds great (the score was recorded at the Capitol Studios in Hollywood) and shows Curtis’ score off very well indeed. To Rest In Peace is certainly a score worth spending some time getting to know. The score is available from iTunes.

The score can be listened to in full and purchased from Leah’s page on Bandcamp.

Rating: ***½

  1. Opening Titles (To Rest In Peace) (1:45)
  2. Arrival (0:54)
  3. Awaken To War (0:39)
  4. Last Hope (3:33)
  5. The End of Civility (1:40)
  6. Embrace of Nature (1:18)
  7. Ritual Burial (2:40)
  8. Salamun Salam (Peace of Peace) (2:49)

Running Time: 15:22

Leah Curtis (2012)


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