“Wes Anderson likes music to be part of the narrative of his films,” says composer Alexandre Desplat. As the musician who has worked with Wes Anderson consistently since the film Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009), Desplat is a key part of Anderson’s creative process. He, in turn, describes the director as “somebody who’s very curious about things and always interested in knowing and discovering new ideas.”
Desplat handed Anderson the Cartier Glory to the Filmmaker Award at this year’s 80th Venice Film Festival ahead of the premier of Anderson’s new film The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar—“The only film of Wes’s that doesn’t have music,” Desplat jokes—“but it was an incredible honor to present the award to him at such an important event for cinema and the craft of making films.”
The Cartier Glory to the Filmmaker Award is given annually to filmmakers including Spike Lee, Al Pacino and Ridley Scott to celebrate a lifetime achievement in the arts, and is part of their ongoing support of artists — including the Artists Dialogue Series and musical performance Ciao Casanova at the Teatro La Fenice conducted by Dominique Lemonnier. As this year’s winner, Anderson marked the occasion by saluting the “many, multiple people who make a film what it is, not just me.” With his closeness to Anderson alongside their fifteen year creative relationship, Paris-based Despalt was the right person to present the award, alongside Cyrille Vigneron.
Despalt and Anderson met at the wedding of director Stephen Gaghan. “After meeting Wes contacted me and said he was working on Fantastic Mr.Fox, and that he’d love to show it to me. Later he invited me to the editing room in Paris and we started working together from then – it was an easy way of bonding together.”
Since then, Desplat has composed the score for The Grand Budapest Hotel (2004), Moonrise Kingdom (2012), Isle of Dogs (2018), The French Dispatch (2021) and Asteroid City (2023), and is responsible for some the most evocative music to have appeared in Anderson’s films. His approach is to treat music as another form of narrative and he begins by “finding the path… I come in right at the end and work out from there what I can add to the story with music,” Desplat says – “through the years, I think we’ve created some kind of a sound that is ours. They’re a world of their own.”
The act of collaboration was a central theme at this year’s Venice Film Festival. With a dearth of actors appearing on the red carpet due to the SAG-AFTRA strike, attention turned to those behind the scenes. In a panel on the collaboration between director and musician duo Damien Chazelle and Justin Hurwitz, who created LaLa Land at the Cartier Artist Dialogues panel The Art and Craft of Cinema, Chazelle and Hurwitz spoke of “really having to stand our ground in the creative process”, with Lazelle saying he had to counter “the film producers asking me to fire Hurwitz maybe five times and replace him with someone else”. Does Despalt feel this pressure?
“I’ve been lucky in that we have been pretty much left alone” he says, “but the act and work of maintaining your vision and being steadfast is a timeless one for anyone working in the arts.” Desplat meticulously lists the reasons why his and Anderson’s creative relationship has lasted for such a long time. “We both share a great sense of passion for cinema,” he says, “so the history of cinema is maybe the seed of our relationship, but also the commitment to the editing process. Following the characters, feeling the narrative, that’s something we have in common. He edits so carefully, with so much detail, that’s something very special to witness in films.”
Desplat finds the best source of inspiration from the actors he works with. “Characters are crucial for my inspiration” he says, “I’m often asked what inspires me, but the inspiration is not watching outside my window for a bird on the tree, it’s watching what the actors are doing in the film – the actors are central in my thoughts.” Working with Kate Winslet on the score of her upcoming film Lee about the artist Lee Miller and the actor and director Greta Gerwig on Little Women in 2019 were two of the most inspirational dynamics he’s found himself in – “I’ve always loved Louisa May Alcott’s novel and the way these women try to enter into adulthood.” He describes Gerwig as a “true artist, she’s full of energy. She likes to be surprised, and she’s open to any suggestions.” He describes Lee as one of the most satisfying parts of his career – “to work with Kate Winslet, who was so key to getting the film made, and making her vision come to life – it was a wonderful experience.”