December 9 is a very special day for me. That afternoon whilst 689 was forced by Beijing to announce that owing to reasons of facing up to his "responsibility" to his family, he would not seek re-election as HK's CE, I was involved in a totally different world. I believe that for most people in HK, splintered and radicalized into seemingly irreconciable political factions by the antics of our CE, that's a very pleasing shock indeed. But at the same time as the shock waves of that announcement was still settling, another minor shock was being unfolded at the HK Film Archive in Sai Wan Ho, as the screen rolled out images after images of another world: the world of preservation of 19th and early 20th century French Jewish music through the indefatigable work of certain musicians in Quebec, Canada. That is the subject of a most unusual film directed by Raphaël Nadjari and co-written by him and Vincent Poymiro called Mobile étoile (Night Song)(夜之聲).
The film is about the finnancial, personal and intra-group struggles of a small group of very dedicated choral French-Portuguese Jewish religious music aficiandos spear-headed by the Dussault family, whose three members were respectively the singer-conductress of a small choral group,Hannah Hermann (Géraldine Pailhas), her pianist husband Daniel Dussault (Luc Picard ) and their teenage violinist son David Hermann-Dussault (Alexandre Sheasby) When the film began, they were preparing for the group's last concert by their existing members which also included Etha Salomons (Felicia Shulman ) and Liliane Levy (Dorothée Berryman), the last of whom who would retire after having been with the group since its beginning. After her retirement, the group advertised for a new member and was soon joined by the very talented young Abigail Colin (Eléonore Lagacé). We're shown how when the couple went back to the their studio one morning, they found that the lock had been changed. Daniel went to the manager Marlus's (Raymond Cloutier) office and found that that was because they hadn't paid the rent for 3 months despite numerous reminders. Daniel was forced to make out a personal cheque and was allowed by the director to continue their rehearsals there.
Everything began to change when Hannah's teenage professor Samuel Badazs (Paul Kunigis) brought them a rare manuscript of the original of a beautiful song, the title of the film, which he took great pains to trace back to an archive of Portuguese Jewish synagogue music in Bordeaux and had it restored by an expert. It was a song with special meaning to Hannah and her ex-professor. When they were rehearsing it with a new interpretation with a more romantic feel suggested by Abigail, they invited Badazs to give his comments. Badazs was not at all in agreement and insisted that it ought to be done in a more formal manner because it was religious music. Daniel had to rewrite the accompaniment to second movement of the song.But when they were invited by the head of the classical music section of the radio station in Quebec to have it recorded after they listened one of their concerts, Daniel refused to be the pianist and Hannah had to double up both as singer and pianist because it was not at all his idea of how it should be done. To him, an artist should be left free to add his own personality to the music according to what he feels to be contemporary sentiments to make it relevant. But Hannah insisted that it should be done the way her former professor said.
The plot was made slightly more interesting by the antics of Marlus who enjoyed listening to their rehearsals and was found doing so by accident by Daniel, who mistakenly thought he was snooping around on them but when the misunderstanding was cleared up, he was invited to join the group as a baritone, something he accepted after some initial hesitation and helped actively in making a presentation of some more lively music to a school in an effort to popularize their genre of classical French Jewish religious music but failed to win over the school authorities.. But they persisted and in the end won a continuation of their grant from the musical foundation which hitherto was supporting them as a result of their radio performance.
It's a simple enough story about how music was what united the Dussault family, whose oldest member Jean-Paul Dussault (Marcel Sabourin) suffered a stroke but when he was rejoined by his son, who played a Bach piece which he taught him when his son was still a child, at the old people's retreat, his spirits revived. I like the way the director and cinematographer constantly focuses the camera upon the character's eyes through which a kind of mutual attention to each other in a tacit understanding that flowed along with the mood of the music, something really beautiful to see. We also see how the love of music pervaded soul of the Dussault family and helped transform and mould it into a living unity, despite the gender, despite age,and differences of personality and preferences and how their common love of music help keep them together despite divergent views of how it should "properly" be done and how if someone were kept out of the rather personal project of its conductress, the only other non-family member Etha felt "betrayed"..
It's a most unusual film, definitely not one which has universal appeal to everyone. But to a music lover, its music is truly heavenly. The film was made credible almost entirely through the very sensitive acting of all its main characters. But of course, what made the film a delight to watch was it incredibly well recorded music.