The Sweet Hereafter Original Soundtrack
The winner of the Grand Prix and two other jury prizes at the 1997 Cannes Film Festival, Atom Egoyan’s film adaptation of the 1991 Russell Banks novel The Sweet Hereafter is the most emotionally fulfilling work of the director’s career. Concerning the effect a fatal school bus accident has on the lives of a small rural community, the film explores complex themes of stolen children, paternal guilt, adultery, incest, disability and moral responsibility. Ian Holm stars as a big-city lawyer who tries to rally the aching parents into a negligence suit just as his own drug-addicted daughter is self-destructing. In scoring the film, long-time Egoyan collaborator Mychael Danna (The Adjuster, Exotica) draws a dramatic parallel with medieval times when every member of a community understood their role. His imaginative instrumentation consists of lute, recorder, sackbut, shawm, krumhorn, vielle, hurdy-gurdy, flute and percussion. The main music, introduced in “Procession” is a Celtic dirge given a theme-and-variations treatment. A dreamy piece for keyboards, as well as other delicate atmospheres, makes the viewer/listener aware of the transforming power of grief. Danna also makes effective use of the Persian ney (the soloist is Hossein Omoumi), employed in connection with the film’s telling of Robert Browning’s Pied Piper of Hamelin fable.
Holm’s case depends on the testimony of a young singer named Nicole, a survivor played with luminous understatement by Sarah Polley. Twenty minutes of the disc are devoted to her haunting performances with the Sam Dent Band, an acoustic ensemble that performs three Danna/Polley songs and two dramatically relevant covers (Jan Siberry’s “One more colour” and The Tragically Hip’s “Courage”). Polley’s plaintive, beautiful soprano voice is a real find. Her brave, perceptive character betrays the lawyer’s case in order to re-unite psychologically the citizens in a new community – a town of people living in the sweet hereafter.