Monks, movie theme from “Illumination”
It wouldn't be a great exaggeration
to say that Kilar’s soundtrack to director Krzysztof Zanussi’s Illumination
contains the most complex, multidimensional music not only in the context of
the two artists’ long collaboration, but perhaps even in the composer’s film
oeuvre (along with the soundtracks to Salt of the Black Earth and Pan
Tadeusz). It is certainly the most thought-out of all his film music, thanks to a distinction between full-fledged themes and
linking sections,, the short motifs or chords serving as punctuation marks
between segments of the film. In both categories we can distinguish a number of
varieties, which often interact in a very complex way.
All this is connected with the director’s ambitious intention for his film to be both the story of a young intellectual wandering in the fossilized world of communist Poland, and an essay about man, his emotions and spirituality. The protagonist, Franciszek Retman (Stanisław Latałło), faces a series of dilemmas associated with his work, academic career, relationships, starting a family and bringing up a child. Zanussi does not limit himself to his own cinematography – he embellishes the film with documentary and educational excerpts, and with diagrams and photographs.
When it comes to the music in Illumination, we find in it an overture, main theme (in two variants) and second theme. The overture, driven by baroque harpsichord figurations and motoric orchestra, appears only in the opening sequence, though it provides material for most of the linking elements. The main theme does not appear until 20 minutes into the film. It then disappears, only to return in an arrangement with a string melody in the upper register with harpsichord arpeggios in the background. It seems to be symbolizing liberation and fulfilment, the finding of oneself – as in the sequence when the protagonist leaves for the mountains after splitting up with his girlfriend. The theme returns, ever more exalted and powerful, during scenes shot in the Tatra Mountains, also at the end of the film.
The second instrumental variant of the main theme is presented by solo piano and invariably accompanies scenes from the protagonist’s family life: civil marriage, feeding his son, playing with him. The tempo slows and the melody seems more reflective. Significantly, in the final scenes of the film when, after many crises, the family share time together by the river, the main theme returns in its orchestral glory, as if symbolizing the harmony of the protagonist’s desires and their fulfilment.
The ascetic second theme's dissonant
melody for solo flute accompanies moments of the protagonist’s bitter
self-reflection or the closure of a stage in his life. This happens when
Franciszek leaves his home town to study physics in Warsaw; when he sits at a
microscope watching his own hand; when he is forced to leave the laboratory to
find work; and finally when he doesn't find peace in a monastery, where he's
sought refuge after abandoning his family.
However, the film's most frequent musical elements are probably the linking sections, which enable Zanussi to go for a truly new-age montage. There are at least four such sections: the first appears during the university entrance-exam scene (glissandi or arpeggios on harpsichord); the second separates “didactic” charts presenting scientists and their discoveries (a duet for harpsichord and piano based on a measured rhythm); the third accompanies various stages of the protagonist’s affair with his first girlfriend (oneiric vibraphone with resonance); the fourth is utilized for stages in the development of the child, for shots of fish trapped in a bag and for the nightmare of a patient in a hospital ward (a nervous string ostinato). The attribution of roles and meanings is by no means fixed; often there are striking combinations, like in the romance scene with the first and third linking elements and a cuckoo clock.
Also worthy of note are passages of diegetic music succinctly and aptly characterizing episodes from the protagonist’s biography. Exotic pipes accompany student sessions with “mind-altering substances”, guitar-accompanied singing appears in a mountain-hostel meeting between the protagonist and his future wife, and a performance of the Mazowsze folk ensemble for their first date in Warsaw. Again and again, Zanussi and Kilar build equivocal sequences, like the one during the protagonist’s stay in the monastery: Franciszek listens to the monks’ chant (diegetic music), which is followed by a documentary digression regarding a scientific explanation for mystical states (first harpsichord link) and then he returns home on foot (second theme, played by the oboe), along the river (with water sounds and cries of birds). Nature and culture, mysticism and mind, constantly at play in the films of Krzysztof Zanussi.