CD Review: Mother and Child

You don’t have to be a woman to appreciate the emotional complexities in MOTHER AND CHILD. The film explores the relationships of three women–Annette, Bening, Naomi Watts, Kerry Washington–as women, mothers, and children. There are some weighty issues on display in the film, but Rodrigo Garcia’s lighthanded direction keeps the film from tipping over into bathos, while the delicate score by Edward Shearmur conveys the feelings the emotionally stunted characters cannot express themselves.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Shearmur for the latest issue of FSM Online. With a multi-strand plotline, one of the challenges for the composer became whether to give each of the main characters a separate theme or “something a little bit more global.” “What we ended up doing,” Shearmur said, “was establishing a couple of motifs that expanded into themes. The motifs keep mutating and appearing in different guises. Elizabeth’s [Naomi Watts] motif at the beginning eventually turns into Annette Bening’s music. The DNA keeps busting apart and reconstituting itself.”

This musical DNA is the heartbeat of the film. A three-note motif forms the basis of the themes. The orchestrations are light and delicate, with piano, acoustic guitar, and strings forming the backbone of the score. Solo lines give emotional voice to the characters or carry on dialogues that the characters will not or cannot speak themselves.

Elizabeth and Paul
Click Track: Elizabeth and Paul

Tinklings in the percussion remind me of a child’s mobile hanging above their crib, while the sole use of a vocal line at the end of the film seems as if a baby is learning to speak. Because of the characters’ barren emotional landscape, the music remains quiet and reflective.

But as Annette Bening’s character begins to blossom, the harmonies grow richer and the motifs and themes mutate into a lovely waltz. This woman who was once shut off rejoins the human race and performs a delicate dance with her emotions and the people close to her. When she finally meets her granddaughter at the end of the film, the harmonies have traveled from a “static and emotionally barren approach” at the beginning of the film to a much richer place both harmonically and instrumentally.

A Waltz for Karen
Click Track: A Waltz for Karen

MOTHER AND CHILD is a score that continues to grow in my estimation the more I listen to it. It’s a beautiful score on its own, but it takes on a much richer dimension once you’ve heard it in context of the film. The film and score are early summer gems that deserve every bit of a mother’s love.

4 comments

  1. Edward Shearmur is clearly a talented composer (having had a mentor like Michael Kamen wouldn’t have hurt either), but the projects he works on seem to be beneath him a lot of the time. When he does get a film worthy of his talents though, the results are invariably brilliant (not that he’s ever written bad music, even for the films which would deserve it). “Mother and Child” seems like a great project (both film and score), so hopefully Shearmur can get more assignments like it in the future.

    1. Totally agree with all of the above. WINGS OF THE DOVE was probably the best film he’s score (at least that I’ve seen). SKY CAPTAIN was a mess but love the score. MOTHER AND CHILD is definitely worthy of his talents.

      1. I couldn’t find any information about an Australian release date for the film (at least nothing specific to Brisbane), but hopefully it does get shown at some point. Either way, I just added the soundtrack CD to my SAE ‘Wish List’.

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