The San Diego Union, October 29, 1983
By George Varga

When French film composer Michel Colombier discusses "Un Chambre en Ville" (A Room in Town), the dramatic musical by acclaimed director Jacques Demy for which he wrote the score, he is adamant that the movie not be compared to any other musical, with the possible exception of Demy's own "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg."

"'A Room in Town' has nothing to do with an American musical, and should never be compared to one," insisted Colombier in a recent interview. 

Indeed, "A Room in Town," is far removed from the light, fantasy-world predominant in American celluloid musicals. Its provocative story deals simultaneously with a 1955 dockworker's strike in Nantes, France, and an impassioned, though ill-fated, love affair.

"A Room in Town" screens tonight at 7 as part of the San Diego International Film Festival and Colombier will be available afterward for a question and answer session. 

Like Demy's 1964 movie musical, "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg," his new film is a humanistic drama that focuses closely on the trials and tribulations of ordinary working people - housewives, garage mechanics, salespersons and the Re. And, in contrast with virtually all other contemporary film musicals except for "Umbrellas," there is no spoken dialogue. Every line is sung. 

"At no cost did we want to have melodies that would be sung as a melody is sung in a musical," explained Colombier, whose 100 film credits include collaborations with such noted directors as Vittorio de Sica, Claude Chabrol and Joseph Sargent.

"When you take a musical, as they have been so well made in the States," he continued, "the action stops and you have a song. In "A Room in Town," the action is always sustained by music. Therefore, I didn't want the viewer to be distracted all the time to listen to a song. I have not tried to make melodies in a way that each sequence in the movie would be one song after another. The dramatic action is first and foremost."

"A Room in Town" marks the first film in well over a decade that director Demy has not worked with his usual musical collaborator, composer Michel Legrand. The reason for the change, Colombier revealed, was because of Legrand's reaction to Demy's script.

"Jacques had given the script to Michel Legrand," explained Colombier, "and Michel felt that it was not at all Jacques. He was very shocked by the story, and he didn't like the fact that people were dying at the end. So after all those years of collaborating with only Michel Legrand, Jacques had to look for another 'brother,' so to speak. He spent a year listening to other French composers, and then he called me and said he'd love to work with me if I liked the subject. I read it, and I loved it." 

The manner in which Demy and Colombier worked together on the film's score was not orthodox. For the most part, Colombier did not even deal with the script preferring instead to improvise a series of themes and melodies based on the emotions of the film's characters.
"I would just give Demy unlabeled tapes with three or four melodic themes, and the he would say, 'Oh, the second theme is perfect for this, and the third theme is perfect for that.' The amazing thing was, he would say, 'See, where you wrote this for theme two, it goes perfectly with page such and such in the script.'

"The music matched his words that he written three years before we'd met; it was the same meter, even though I'd had the script closed and just let the improvisation take over." 

Colombier, whose first American album, a pop-rock symphony entitled, "Wings," earned three Grammy nominations in 1971, has a diverse musical background. Trained in the classics, he played and wrote for jazz combos and big bands before entering the Paris Conservatory of Music. He first came to Los Angeles, where he now resides, in 1969 as the musical director for singer Petula Clark, and was hired to score films for Universal Studios. 

Currently at work on a new film with director Taylor Hackford ("An Officer and a Gentleman"), the 44-year-old musician-composer has been commissioned to score several pieces over the next few years, including a viola concerto for the French National Orchestra, a ballet, a string work for the Kronos Quartet and a double trumpet concerto.

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