Breathe (Nitin Sawhney) – Film Score Review

Nitin Sawhney's soundtrack to the film Breathe is the latest score to be reviewed by Set The Tape...

Composer: Nitin Sawhney
Label: Varese Sarabande
Tracks: 29
Run time: 40 mins

Andy Serkis’ directorial debut Breathe is in cinemas now and brings to life the inspiring true love story between Robin and Diana Cavendish (Andrew Garfield and Claire Foy), an adventurous couple who refuse to give up in the face of a devastating disease. Written by two-time Academy Award nominated writer William Nicholson, and shot by three-time Academy Award winner Robert Richardson, Breathe is a heartwarming celebration of love and human possibility.

Composer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist Nitin Sawhney was hired to bring this vivid and tragic world to life. Here are his thoughts on approaching the soundtrack to Breathe

“The music is very sparing in the most powerful and emotional scenes. I preferred to let the acting lead the emotion of the film. The instrumentation needed to reflect the time and period of Robin’s life, his personal tastes in music, his personality, and the narrative journey, without falling into the pitfall of creating an anachronistic soundtrack.”

An understated fairytale, that’s the best way to describe Sawhney’s score for Breathe. There’s a gentle beauty to many of the 29 tracks on the album and some hugely emotive beats that when they hit the right note, are simply breathtaking.

You might be forgiven for thinking that this will be a very long album; after all, many soundtracks manage little more than half the number Breathe has here. But the reality is that these tracks feel more like snippets of the score than full pieces of music; only one comes close to three minutes and it is all the better for it, with the majority a minute to ninety seconds long and one not even thirty. As a experience, it makes listening to each track individually a little disjointed; just when you’re ready for the musical score to a expand, it ends all too abruptly and that’s the case on nearly every track.

But that isn’t to say that there isn’t some wonderful stuff at play here. From the first track ‘Robin’s Drive’ Sawhney conjures up a sense of fairytale wonder, the use of harps and soaring orchestral score making for a magical opening that captures the spirit of the Cavendish’s adventurous lifestyle.

And there is a vibrancy to the earlier tracks too. ‘Cricket Match’, with its slower, simple piano piece still retains that magical feel, while ‘Country Drive And Ballroom’ is another timeless, old fashioned magical piece with moments of sadness invoked through the violin solo. And ‘Travelling To Kenya’ has a suave, effortless jazz feel full of vibrant energy and romantic, sweeping orchestral movements.

The first really emotional piece is ‘Getting Ill’; it has a deeper, mournful score, but is incredibly emotive, rising throughout and full of sadness and passion. It’s a great track, one of the best on the album. ‘Meeting Baby Jonathan’ is short but sweet, having that timeless, fairytale nature to what is a fairly simple tune. ‘Doesn’t Want To See The Baby’ slips back into a more serious tone, at times ethereal and grave; there is a real sense of drama and anguish in this orchestral score, ending on a rather ominous tone.

But then things just become a little…unforgettable, the sheer number of short minute-long tracks failing to really engage in their own right. ‘Dreaming He Is Fine’ has a simple but effective piano piece, though it is largely forgettable once done, but ‘Buying The House’ returns to that playful, emotional feel of earlier tracks though doesn’t quite have enough oomph to be memorable. Even ‘Moving The Bed’, which has a classic period vibe and a fun trumpet solo, feels a little repetitive and ends rather too abruptly.

The album pick up again with ‘Hospital Escape’, which is far more sinister than its predecessors, with an ominous, creepy opening before expanding into a fun, jazz-style motif, full of playful sounds and eclectic mix of instruments. ‘Arrival Home’, like ‘Getting Ill’, is another breathless, emotional piece with a soaring orchestral score that will make the hairs stand on the back of your neck. It is simply stunning and one of the best tracks on the album. I wished it would have lasted longer.

‘Connecting With Jonathan’ is another emotional, somewhat anguished score but is lovely to listen to. ‘Cleaning Ladies Outside’ has fun, village hall dance vibe to the beat and a lovely string solo, while ‘The Last Dream’ is sung in true crooner style, crackling gramophone feel that feels timeless, but like many tracks is over before it really gets going.

Next up is ‘Garden Party’, which is another jazzy piece, sultry and cool, if a little repetitive, while ‘Travelling To Spain’ has a fun trumpet siesta piece and is lively a memorable, a cacophony of instruments and sounds that make this a sometimes chaotic but memorable track. There is a great rhythm to the whole piece. ‘Picnic By The Road’ meanwhile, is an odd, whimsical track that doesn’t really amount to much. This is followed by ‘Funding The Chairs’, which us just is half a minute long epitomises some of the issues with this soundtrack; jazzy and fun but over far too abruptly.

As would be expected, the remaining tracks up the emotion punch of Sawhney’s score; ‘Wheelchair Parade’ has another soaring, fairytale feel, lots of breathless orchestral moments and wonder. There’s a great momentum to the final part, though again it ends too soon. ‘Arriving At The German Hospital’ feels off putting and distant, which is perhaps the point, but feels like one continuous note than an identifiable piece in its own right. ‘Leaving The German Hospital’ meanwhile is just 26 seconds long but packs a wonderful emotional punch, even if it feels like it is just getting going.

‘German Convention Speech’ is a lovely, melancholy piece, the lively themes of earlier tracks slowed down to a simple piano beat with a tragic string solo accompanying, while the second half soars with a majestic, beautiful orchestral piece that is quite lovely to listen to. ‘After First Bleed’ continues that emotional score, while feeling distant and slowed down, another beautiful but melancholy track and ‘Goodbye-Ee’ rises to a powerful, emotive and tragically beautiful orchestral score but ends wanting more.

The strongest two tracks come right at the end of the album. ‘My Love My Life’ is bittersweet, simple and beautiful. Another very strong track given room to breathe at nearly two minutes long. This one certainly packs an emotional punch without being over dramatic. ‘Telling The Doctor It’s time’ meanwhile is the longest track at nearly three minutes and is all the better for it. A beautiful, passionate score, full of sweeping, tragic, emotional orchestral movements this is a stunning track, soaring and anguished and stands out as the highlight of the Breathe score. Had we had more tracks of this nature, I would ranking this soundtrack higher than I do.

The album ends with ‘Flashback Montage’, which recaps those earlier playful moments with a simple piano piece, long mournful pauses broken in and emerging into a sweet, gentle orchestral piece full of simple joy, while ‘Credits’ returns that sweeping, playful fairytale score of the beginning of the album.

Listening to the score for Breathe, a film I am yet to see, I can fully understand Sawhney’s desire for the music to be used very sparing in the most powerful and emotional scenes. Knowing that makes me want to watch the film more; there are some great moments of beauty in this score and it paints the picture of a family that are fun and adventurous while facing something altogether tragic too. But as an album it works less well; there is not enough depth to these pieces and the abrupt endings to the very short tracks is jarring as a listener. But when it – pardon the pun – has time to breathe, Sawhney is able to create something truly special indeed. I just wished we had had more of the likes of ‘Telling The Doctor It’s time’ to fulfil the score’s potential…

The soundtrack to Breathe has been released by Varese Sarabande and is available to buy now. Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.

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