WILD CREATURES – Julian Kantus

Original Review by Alan RogersWild Creatures

Wild Creatures (2015) is a short film inspired by the quote “Hearts are wild creatures, that’s why our ribs are cages”. The film explores the cascade of feelings and emotions of the heart (both positive and negative) that arise from being in love: attraction, addiction, obsession, self-pity, self-destruction. Directed by German filmmaker Rene Zhang (who collaborated heavily with the lead actress Chara Valon on the concepts behind the film), Wild Creatures has no dialogue and is filmed in black and white, relying on the strength of the on-screen performances (particularly from Valon) and the musical score to bring the emotional depth to the film: an artistic decision made to encourage audiences to overlay their own ideas and emotional interpretations onto the audio-visual experience. The score is composed by Julian Kantus, who worked with Zhang on his previous film, Yellow.

With the music playing a very prominent in the film means that Kantus’ music acts very much as the narrator of the film. Divided into three formal “chapters” (covering affection, obsession and their consequences), Zhang uses a number of ideas or icons to aid him with the storytelling: images of a cathedral (linked by Zhang to the equivalent place in the human persona where feelings associated with love are placed…or imprisoned); an “inner child” (perhaps related to the vulnerability of those in love); and temptation (a tool exposing the uglier aspects of love). Kantus’ excellent score, taps into these ideas, associating musical ideas with these elements leading to the creation of what is effectively a tone poem. However, the film itself opens with music not composed by Kantus. Georg Frederick Handel’s well-known composition, “Sarabande” (from his Keyboard Suite In D-minor), makes for a dramatic music opening to the film and reflects the director’s admiration of the works of Stanley Kubrick: a sentiment reinforced by Zhang’s 2001: A Space Odyssey-like alignment of what appears to be the Earth, Moon and the Sun.

Kantus’ score proper begins with the opening album track, “The Woods”, and its propelling synth rhythms. Piano then joins the beat and slowly evolves into a repeating theme that will become a prominent feature of the score. It’s immediately memorable, reminding me somewhat of the memorable themes written by the likes of Ludovico Einaudi, and Kantus applies some subtle variations to the melody (in terms of form and forcefulness) over the course of the following three minutes. Meanwhile, Zhang shows us the majority of the set-piece imagery from the film: an image of a person whose face is obscured by a sheer head-covering with an apparently-ruined cathedral behind, a woman dressed in black (Valon) on her knees in a small wood clearing and a child surrounded by a black nothingness alongside the woman dressed in black; all images that will recur throughout the film. And it’s the music that acts as a glue, binding together these varied and unfamiliar images, giving the audience a chance to become accustomed to the world being created. But then this theme is pulled away, to be replaced by a series of soundscape washes of female vocals and strings (“Dream On” and “Addiction”). Harsh chords on electric guitar then play as a man appears to the woman kneeling in the woods, cigarette in his hand. We see the reaction of the other scenes (i.e., head-covered figure, the “inner child” in the dark void) and these images, together with the ominous tone of the guitar, all suggests that all is not right with the appearance of this man. Image, performance and music all work together effectively and I came away with the notion that this man was in some way seducing the woman but it’s not clear, at this point, whether this is a good thing or not. But, the crying of the “inner child” character, the appearance of ravens pecking at an unseen target and the gathering of storm clouds don’t bode well for a good resolution. There’s a corresponding darkening in the tone of the music too, with the appearance of sustained low string chords, increasing in intensity, adding to the menace.

The second half of the film becomes a battle of the various relationships (and feelings): we see several images of the struggles of the woman in the woods and the woman and child in the dark void space as these various situations are resolved. One of the first things we hear in the score at this point is the appearance of a church organ, a powerful driving force for the music (“Heart To Heart”). The organ plays a secondary theme that’s closely related to the opening “The Woods” theme. When I first heard this second theme, it was clearly different to the opening theme but there was some familiarity about it: it seemed related. But I could be sure. (The composer did point out subsequently to me that this second theme uses the same notes as the first but that they are used in a different sequence). A driving bass ostinato, the powerful tones of the organ and the intensity of the audio mix all drives home the forcefulness of the battling emotions. Kantus’ introduction of the electric guitar in “Heart To Heart” reminds the listener (and viewer) of the importance of the appearance of the man earlier in the film. The conflict comes to a climax in the “Finale” when a self-sacrifice sways the events (this is my interpretation of the on-screen events. As I mentioned, the filmmakers have made the film in such a way that there could be a number of interpretations!). Opening with a grand chord on the church organ, the music swells as the drama unfolds. The insistent ostinato pattern of the opening cue is back but now the appearance of voiceless male voices heightens the tension. A powerful statement of the piano theme heard at the start of the film is played re-appears, but this time by the church organ. It’s a highlight moment of the score and acts as an emphasis suggesting that everything that has gone before is coming to a final resolution.

“Beating Heart” brings both the drama and Kantus’ score to a conclusion. The consequences of the last few minutes on-screen begin to play out for all the various points of view. The opening ninety seconds or so of the track features a reprise of the uncertain chords in the strings which are accompanied by a sustained ostinato figure, but this time the repeated figure has us pausing, holding our breath to see which way fate falls. A lovely piano solo, accompanied by a series of shifting string chords, provides the first real sense of optimism to the score: events have indeed been resolved. Perhaps not to everyone’s satisfaction but a status quo has been reached and Kantus introduces a beating heart motif to reflect the taming of the heart (again, my interpretation of the film). The song, “The Root (Reprise)” (performed by Frau Karo), bookends the film with another non-Kantus piece and plays over the end credits sequence.

Wild Creatures is such a rewarding listen and I found a developing appreciation for the score the more times I listened to it. It’s particularly effective having watched the film itself and I hope that the film gets a wider audience once it has done the “festival circuit”. Kantus certainly delivers on the promise he showed in Zhang’s previous film, Yellow, and the music in Wild Creatures certainly captures the structure of the film as well as highlighting many of key ideas the film contains. Kantus’ score is available to buy at most online digital stores and audio clips can be found HERE. The entire score can be heard HERE.

Rating: ***½

  1. The Woods (3:59)
  2. Dream On (1:04)
  3. Addiction (2:14)
  4. Heart To Heart (2:38)
  5. Finale (2:49)
  6. Beating Heart (4:40)

Running Time: 19:14

Julian Kantus (2015)

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