Quiet Chaos, which is a great title, was recommended to me. I liked the film (thanks, Lisa Marie). Strong performances and a good concept. The rare film where the inciting dramatic moment isn’t really given much screen-time and, while it certainly pushes the plot into action, it ultimately takes a back seat to all else. There’s a kind of bizarre but unique interpretation of a wet dream, some steadicam that really gets into the characters’ heads, and a male-female interaction that thwarts some stereotypes.
Despite all of this, I’m going to spend much of this blog digressing on something I disliked. The soundtrack (and a bit of how it relates to a specific scene):
It’s something I’ve mentioned before and I want to go into some more detail here. There are three American pop songs in this film. One by Stars, one by Rufus Wainwright and one by Radiohead. All more or less fine songs, but they still bugged me. I’ll talk about the specific scene with the song from Stars in a bit, but first, about the use of pop music, or more specifically, a pre-existing soundtrack and one with lyrics:
Now there are great instances of this type of usage in cinema. I think everyone would point to Scorsese and The Rolling Stones right away. So maybe I’m being overly analytical (or picky), but there’s a separation to be made there as well. First, Scorsese’s use of music is largely long-after-the-fact. By that, I mean that the songs have existed for some time, and what they are associated with – a time period, a specific musical moment, etc – is already fairly solidified. Second, the lyrics in a Scorsese-used song (think of Gimme Shelter) don’t always comment directly on the action. That’s not always true, but even if they do, I think that my first point still holds up: even if the lyrics do comment on the action, these songs are so firmly entrenched in pop-music history that the lyrics feel less prominent. That is to say – the song as a whole is what is recognizable, not individual elements.
Back to Quiet Chaos (and other films, but we’re talking about this one…and by ‘we’re’ I mean ‘I’m’). Contemporary music inflects the scene in a different way than an original score. The original score is usually created after the scene has been created. It comments on the action, but only insofar as the pre-constructed scene allows it to. A pre-existing song, then, brings preconceptions with it. And a pre-existing modern song brings unfamiliar preconceptions with it. Stars versus The Rolling Stones. If I hear the Stones I think of the aura of “The Stones.” If I hear Stars I stop to more consciously listen – how is this music going to change? What are the singers saying? What does the song as a whole means? It separates itself more fully from the scene. It doesn’t blend together as well and calls attention less to cinematic qualities than to the “I love this music” moment (something that bugged the hell out of me in other films I’ve mentioned on here: Garden State and happythankyoumoreplease).
Here’s the scene that the song from Stars plays over. Actually, before I say that, so as not to feel completely biased, let me note that I do like this song. The scene:
Nanni Moretti is waiting outside of his daughter’s school for the end of the school day. He’s in the park across the street where much of the action unfolds. It’s his first day – we are led to believe ever – picking her up. The surrounding area is quiet. Then suddenly the rustle from the school begins. The calm before the storm (a sort of quiet chaos in-and-of-itself). The song kicks in. Moretti stands slowly and everything around him starts coming to life. Parents pull up in cars. The doors to the school open. More parents appear behind him in the park walking towards the school. The teachers and children emerge onto the steps and start walking to the sidewalk. Moretti begins traversing the park towards them.
This all takes place in a series of shots as to be ephemeral. By that I mean: director Grimaldi doesn’t show the parents behind Moretti in the park walking up – they just suddenly appear. The camera cranes high above the action twice in this scene. It’s all meant to be almost supernatural. And I understand that emotion: it’s Moretti’s character experiencing something entirely new immediately after his wife’s death, and in the longer story, it’s the beginning of a new chapter for him.
This whole time, the song by Stars is blasting. It’s rising as the camera rises, dipping as Moretti has a brief conversation, and progressing as father and daughter get closer. One of my huge problems is mentioned above: I was listening as much to the lyrics of the song in this moment as I was paying attention to what was happening on-screen.
Another problem I have with it: the scene would be so much stronger without it. So much stronger! I actually rewound it and muted it. Even on mute – with no sound design at all – it’s a better scene. The emotion on Moretti’s face, the well planned shots, even the cliché arcing camera – they all add up to the exact feeling that I believe Grimaldi wanted.
And lastly, the tone of the music seems at odds with Grimaldi’s mise-en-scene. He has a really nice comedic drama going on here. The music is pulled from the pop charts and is more representative of a time/place/person, etc that is absent from this film.