OSS 117: From Africa with Love (OSS 117: Alerte Rouge en Afrique Noire) is the third film in the OSS 117 spy series created by Michel Hazanavicius (The Artist) and starring Jean Dujardin as French secret agent OSS 117. In From Africa with Love the titular agent, Hubert Bonisseur de la Bath, is sent on a mission to Africa to help out a president under attack from rebels, covertly led by his young wife (Fatou N’Diaye). The comedy, which premiered on closing night of the 2021 Cannes Film Festival, was released in French theaters on August 4. The music score was composed by director Nicolas Bedos (La Belle Epoque) and the classically-trained Anne-Sophie Versnaeyen (My Cousin, I Still Hide to Smoke) who evoking the spirit of the great John Barry and his 007 music, spoke to us about her work on this project.
Jason: Can you begin by talking about your background in music?
Anne-Sophie Versnaeyen: I started playing the viola at six-years-old and I knew then I had a very strong relation for music. My parents were not musicians at all but I have one sister and she played viola and I fell in love with that instrument. Since then I always had a strong feeling for music. I didn’t know that I wanted to become a composer but I knew music would play a very important part in my life.
Jason: You worked with director Nicolas Bedos before OSS 117, can you tell me how that partnership came about?
Anne-Sophie Versnaeyen: We first made the movie Mr. & Mrs. Adelman. On that movie I was doing orchestration and arrangement and that is where we met. We talked a lot about music which was our first connection. Later he asked me to do La Belle Epoque and that was our first collaboration as director/composer. We shared a music language so that helps a lot when you start to work on a movie because I already knew what he liked and didn’t like and I also knew how to translate his demand. For example, he told me on La Belle Epoque, ‘I don’t like strings. I don’t want strings on the score.’ but I knew how to translate that because at the end there are strings but he didn’t want big violin strings but we have a lot of staccato strings and light strings so it’s important to be able to translate when you work together on certain movies you learn how to discuss and speak about music together.
Jason: Do you like to read scripts before beginning to explore musical ideas or do you prefer to see an assembled cut of a movie?
Anne-Sophie Versnaeyen: I always like to read the script because sometimes when you read the script you have it in mind when you are in front of the computer and starting to write music and you can think about it and you can start to think about colors and I think it’s very important to choose the colors of the music and maybe because I come from orchestration arrangement, I really like to choose a family of instruments, or maybe one instrument and when you read a script sometimes you can have an idea of what to use. For La Belle Epoque we worked with the script but that was not the case for OSS because it’s the kind of movie where we work from the image. But I did read the script before. It’s always good to read the script because for me it’s the start of the music-working process.
Jason: Once you’ve read the script and seen a film, what is your writing process? Do you use a computer, pencil and paper and do certain environments inspire you more so than others?
Anne-Sophie Versnaeyen: When I start to work on music I like to be alone. It’s not easy for me to work near someone. It depends on the movie but I usually start with the piano and record a lot of viola and then I am on the computer to make all the demos. I can’t start with a computer because I need to organize my ideas with the piano. But I always later do music with the computer.
Jason: Can you tell me about your musical influences, for example your favorite composers, not necessarily film composers even.
Anne-Sophie Versnaeyen: I listen to a lot of classical music and maybe it’s because I have a classical background but I’m very into Bach and Schubert. I found Bach very inspiring and it’s music which forms a lot of images. I also like Tchaikovsky, Prokofiev and I have a lot of score music in my room which I like to study. What is wonderful about music, especially classical music is you’re always learning about music by reading scores. I even read scores when I am on the train. I really like the film composers Alexandre Desplat and John Williams. I have a memory of when I was 12 or 13-years-old playing Star Wars in my string section of an orchestra and that provided a lot of emotion. I really like Jóhann Jóhannsson and his work with Denis Villeneuve on Sicario and Prisoners. For me that was amazing because of the connection between the image works very well. I also like world music and I like to discover instruments. I like voices as well.
Jason: What are your favorite instruments to write for? I know you already mentioned the piano and the viola in particular.
Anne-Sophie Versnaeyen: In my music I really like to write for different instruments.. If it’s music for a classical instrument I’ll write for bassoon which musically registers close to the viola. I really like the English horn and the alto flute. I like instruments that used to play in the low register who play quite high because I like to write, for example, for the bassoon but in the higher register. I wrote a lot of solos for bassoon that can play with an oboe. I really like the bassoon [laughs].
Jason: How do you develop themes and musical textures for a movie such as OSS?
Anne-Sophie Versnaeyen: We started out by Nicolas writing a song which was a James Bond-sounding song. We discussed in particular For Your Eyes Only (1981) and we spoke about the other James Bond movies but there is also a mix between the theme was is a little bit like Indiana Jones. We wanted it to sound like OSS believing he’s a hero but he’s really not. When he sees a woman or he falls in love we didn’t want to be scared to use a lot of violin and working with a large orchestra was fun for us so I think we found the right theme and we had to tell ourselves not to be scared to use it even if it was a cliché because overall it was good for the film.
Jason: What would you like the audience to feel when they hear your music?
Anne-Sophie Versnaeyen: I want the audience to feel that the music was right for the images because we spend a lot of time to match the details and there are many cues but they are very short yet still the connection between image and music is huge and I hope that people will feel that connection. Because it’s a comedy the music has to be in the right place precisely and I hope people will feel the details are right and connect with the music and image.
Jason: I listened to the score before this interview and I thought the music was very playful and full of details as you set out to do and in the right place and to me, that said there was thought and intelligence behind the creation of the music. Do you have any upcoming projects coming up you’d like talk about?
Anne-Sophie Versnaeyen: Thank you. Yes, I have just finished the music to a documentary about Lynx, the animal. The director spent ten years following a Lynx in the French forest. It’s very different from OSS and the idea for the music was to feel that the forest had a lot of mysticism. That film is done but with the Covid-19 crises we don’t know when it’s going to be out. In France there are a lot of films that are waiting to come out in cinemas.
Jason: Is there anything else you’d like to say about your work on OSS?
Anne-Sophie Versnaeyen: Only that I was happy to record with the wonderful musicians in London. It was very nice and I was so happy even it was a distanced recording session even during the covid crises.
Jason: The end result seems to have worked out [laughs].Thank you for speaking to us.
Anne-Sophie Versnaeyen: Thank you very much.
OSS 117: From Africa with Love by Anne-Sophie Versnaeyen and Nicolas Bedos is now available from Milan Records & Sony Masterworks.
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