French Super Spy Returns
August 2, 2021
Composer Anne-Sophie Versnaeyen Tangles with OSS 117
Interview by Randall D. Larson
Anne-Sophie Versnaeyen is a French film music composer and songwriter based in Paris. From her classical background studying at the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique de Paris she has developed a successful career as a film composer notably through her collaboration with Nicolas Bedos. Her work on Bedos’ LA BELLE EPOQUE (nominated for 11 César Awards and presented at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival) has recently received a nomination for the ‘Prix Michel Legrand.’ From her first feature film in 2011, Jérôme Le Gris’ REQUIEM FOR A KILLER starring Mélanie Laurent, Versnaeyen’s music is marked by strong and individual handling of the orchestra influenced by her classical background as a viola player. This attachment to the viola has had a big influence on how she composes keeping her in touch with the linear, melodic and contrapuntal aspects of composing. It has also influenced her with how she treats color in her scores, concentrating on darker resonant textures using carefully selected ensembles mixing low winds such as bass clarinets and bassoons with the more resonant string sounds such as violas and cellos. This can be heard to great effect in LA BELLE EPOQUE where this rich sound is combined with tango-influenced music. Another key influence in her style comes from her love for songwriting for which she turns to the guitar or piano as backbones for composing.
Nicolas Bedos’ new film, OSS 117: FROM AFRICA WITH LOVE, which closed this year’s Cannes Film Festival, offers us the third part of the adventures of Hubert Bonisseur de La Bath, a.k.a “OSS 117”. Jean Dujardin returns as the French “James Bond” and shares his adventures with the young and promising “OSS 1001” performed by Pierre Niney. For the music of this highly anticipated third installment, Bedos pursued his fruitful collaboration with composer Anne-Sophie Versnaeyen after LA BELLE EPOQUE in 2019. Hence, the collaboration between Anne-Sophie Versnaeyen and Nicolas Bedos continues (for his 2017 film Monsieur and Madame Adelman, Versnaeyen served as a music arranger). As Anne-Sophie Versnaeyen explains, Nicolas Bedos likes to invest into the creation of his films’ scores and it is on a few pieces, soon to be emblematic, that he joined her in the composition.
To create the music for OSS 117: From Africa with Love, Anne-Sophie Versnaeyen was inspired by the greatest adventurers and heroes of the 20th century, translated into music by equally famous composers: John Barry and the timeless James Bond, John Williams and the fearless Indiana Jones, Bill Conti and the unforgettable Rocky, but also Lalo Schifrin, master of legendary adventurous scores (Mission Impossible, Inspector Harry, etc.). This soundtrack combines symphony orchestra with big band, resulting in the heroic and adventurous themes that form the musical heart of adventure films.
The soundtrack album of OSS 117: FROM AFRICA WITH LOVE will be released Aug 4th, to coincide with the domestic release of the film. A vinyl issue of the soundtrack will be available in France from August 20, and can be pre-ordered here.
Q: On your previous scores with Nicolas Bedos (MR & MRS ADELMAN, 2017 music arranger; and LA BELLE EPOQUE, 2019, co-composer) you have collaborated with Mr. Bedos on music; how has your musical partnership on those films develop, and how did you collaborate on scoring OSS 117: FROM AFRICA WITH LOVE?
Anne-Sophie Versnaeyen: Over the course of working together we have found a common musical language. It’s important to understand the other person and translate for example ideas like “I don’t want strings” (in La Belle Epoque) to just not having big string lead melodies. This understanding gains precious time when working through notes and changes on cues rather than heading off in wrong directions with the music For OSS117 we discussed the references for the music, the older Bond movies and action movies such as Indiana Jones and started working from there. We worked in different ways for different parts of the score. Either I would come up with ideas to develop or Nicolas would have a precise idea. For example, the title song Nicolas came up with a melodic and harmonic idea that we then structured into the full song.
Q: OSS 117 has been a very popular character in French books and films dating back to the 1960s. With this film being the third in 2006 revival of the franchise, how did you approach scoring the film, and did you retain the theme or style from the previous two movies (I notice you have included Ludovic Bource’s theme in your soundtrack for this new film)?
Anne-Sophie Versnaeyen: We had in mind that this third film was new. It has a new director and a new epoque being set in the 1980s. The character of OSS117 is older and new agents and new cultural ideas are coming. We started to compose quite freely without questioning what we were doing in relation to the first two films but the idea was not to eclipse the music of the two first movies but build on it. That’s why we hear in a couple of places music from the other films, to bridge the films together. The first time OSS117 is whistling the theme when he arrives in his hotel room and the second at the end when he says: “OSS117 will always be OSS177.” A wink to the other two films.
Q: How did the classic espionage movie themes from the past influence where you and Nicolas wanted to go with the themes, motifs, and sound of OSS 117 IN FROM AFRICA WITH LOVE?
Anne-Sophie Versnaeyen: The color and instrumentation of classic espionage movies really influenced the sound of this score. You can really hear this in how we approached the title song with a Bond like song to go with the opening titles. We weren’t afraid to work with the cliches of this genre, mixing big band and more symphonic sounds especially for the actions scene, and big string lines for the romantic moments.
Q: Would you describe your instrumental palette for this film and what new elements you have brought into the musical franchise with this movie?
Anne-Sophie Versnaeyen: The instrumental palette for this film is quite large. We have big band, symphonic orchestra, cimbalom, drums, bass, guitar … All used to conjure up the cliches of the genre but scored in our own way.
Q: In addition to highly jazz-based musical material, you have some compelling character themes (your themes for Micheline and Zephyrine are quite lovely) and some delicious suspense music (such as “En prison”). How would you describe your score’s thematic structure and interaction in this film?
Anne-Sophie Versnaeyen: One of the main themes appears in the first battle scene at the beginning. It’s a very short theme reminiscent of action movies like Indiana Jones. This theme is associated with OSS117 relating to the hero that he think he is. Throughout the film the theme comes back in many different guises, for example during action scene and later slowed down in the strings for the kiss in the helicopter.
Q: Who sang the title song (track 3 on the album) and how did that song come about?
Anne-Sophie Versnaeyen: The title song is sung by French singer Indy Eka. We did it as a classical James Bond opening style. With the images you also can see a lot of references. It was the first music we work on.
Q: What was most challenging for you in scoring the OSS 117 film? And most rewarding?
Anne-Sophie Versnaeyen: We started work on the music at the same time as the COVID lockdown. It was quite a strange period and for the most part we had to exchange via email. This always makes it harder to work efficiently and when we could work side by side in the same room I found it easier. For me, it’s important to be together in the same room at some point to speak about the music. As we were recording in London we also had to record remotely as we weren’t able to travel due to the quarantine rules. This went extremely well but it was frustrating to not be there in person.
Q: I’d also like to ask about your music for LA BELLE EPOQUE (2019); how did you work with Nicolas on composing that comedy-drama score?
Anne-Sophie Versnaeyen: Working on La Belle Epoque was totally different. Mainly because a lot of the music was written to script and then adapted to the image later. Also the relation between the images and music is quite different. In OSS, especially in action scenes, it’s more like a cartoon, responding very closely to what’s going on on the screen. In La Belle Epoque the focus was more toward the dialogue and atmosphere less a moment to moment illustration.
Q: Your first film score was for REQUIEM FOR A KILLER (2011; Requiem pour une tueuse), which also featured music of Jiri Heger and Régis Vogëlène and classical music by Handel. How did you become involved in this film and how did it lead to scoring films on your own?
Anne-Sophie Versnaeyen: This came about quite by accident. I was first hired as an arranger and Regis was the main composer. As the score progressed Regis asked me to work on the composition as well and it developed quite naturally into a collaboration. There’s not one thing that lead to me scoring my own films, everything is made it steps. I’ve worked on a massive variety of projects that have all helped get my name out. With that people have got to know my work and I started to get offered scores of my own.
Special thanks to Valerie Dobbelaere of the Postbills agency for facilitating this interview.
Watch the film’s French (subtitled in English) trailer: