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Waiting for Oscar 2021: Paolo Buonvino and the Miracles that Music Can Make

Sound track for "Fátima": an interview with the composer who talks about his musical world, replete with experimentation, ideas and mystical inspirations

Italian composer, conductor and music arranger Paolo Buonvino (52) poses for a portrait in his studio in Rome, Italy, on December 9th 2020. (Photo by Gianni Cipriano)

Paolo Buonvino is the composer of the sound track for the film, Fátima, produced and distributed in the US, and an Official Contender for the Oscar 2021 in the category of Best Score and Best Song (“Gratia Plena” sung by Andrea Bocelli)

Social and emotional distances, partitions, disunion, confusion, noise, and a certain dose of prevaricating media pollution. I’m certain that although perhaps in different terms, each one of us has felt something similar during this surreal development of the global pandemic that is driving compasses and vital orientation crazy.

During these months, my personal search for a space out of the ordinary life that could bring me some sort of solace and inspire a possible vision of the future naturally gravitated towards art. And it was during this virtual and emotional chaos when Paolo Buonvino’s music entered my auditory perception. And there it stayed, emblazoned, also thanks to the evocative power that the movie Fátima was able to impress on my conscience.

Experiencing Paolo Buonvino’s music and having had the chance to converse with him, has certainly been one of the artistic treats of this complex time. Listening to his words was instantly curative per se and something that I definitely needed to hear: “music opens up channels and lets those transformation processes, that can apparently seem complex, become easy. To quote the ethnomusicologist John Blacking: ‘the hard thing is to love, and music is a skill that prepares man for this difficult task.’ And therefore, music is a sort of a shamanic act of transformation and purification.”

 Isn’t that what we need to believe in right now? We need to believe in the possibility of a transformation, of purification from the horror we are living, take a moment to breathe, and allow us to even believe in miracles. All of these exhortations are beautifully delivered through both the soundtrack and the movie Fátima. The film is an intellectually honest query on the extraordinary lives of the kids who experienced the famous epiphany of the Holy Mary, gifting the audience with a privileged point of view: a kid’s pure look capable of seeing the magic of the creation, beyond any religious speculations.

It was this special point of view that convinced Paolo Buonvino to work on the soundtrack: “Some time ago a friend of mine, the editor Alessio Doglione, contacted me to tell me he was working on Fátima and that the director, Marco Pontecorvo, was interested in my music for the movie. In the beginning, I was a bit skeptical because a film on the Fátima story could have been risky and controversial, and it could have turned out to be quite trivial. But when they told me about the specific point of view; telling the story from the point of view of Lúcia, the kid protagonist of the apparition, I was hooked. I imagined this kid having the gift to discern reality from a purity at heart that lets her experience nature, the divine, and humankind on a dimensional level that others cannot comprehend. And so, I thought of composing music that could have prepared the audience to this dimension, made of meditation, of breaths, of silences and simplicity.”

 Listening to these words, one can really perceive the artistic caliber of Paolo Buonvino and why he considers himself a contemporary “artisan of music”. He works with scrupulous dedication, allowing himself to take the time to dig deep inside of our subconscious to let the right emotional chords resonate and then interweaving them in emotional recordings. Yes, producing music, but also taking the right time to listen. It is probably this extraordinary ability to listen and to feel that established Paolo Buonvino as one of the most eclectic, sensitive, and refined Italian contemporary composers, able to transcend genres and easy categorizations to produce a music that is always authentic.

An authenticity that might be standing behind his successful debut with the eighth series of the world-known TV show The Octopus (La Piovra 8), his long-lasting collaboration with director Gabriele Muccino and stars of the pop and rock arena such as the Italian Carmen Consoli, Elisa but also Skin, leader of the British band The Skunk Anansie or Dolores O’ Riordan of The Cranberries. And then his international achievements in France, Canada, and the U.S., particularly with the score of the colossal Luxe Vide / HBO TV show The Medici: Masters of Florence.

Buonvino’s ability to listen brought him, early on in his career, to enthusiastically absorb the lessons of some of the masters of music that forged his artistry as well as those moral standards of the profession of a musician that he so strongly believes in. Mentors like “Il Maestro” Franco Battiato – one of Italy’s most influential and avant-garde singer-songwriters – who encouraged him to write music for film. Or Maestro Ennio Morricone with whom he had a fruitful artistic exchange throughout the years.

And perhaps the biggest master of all, the one he has been listening to since he was a kid: his land, Sicily. “Being Sicilian brings, even subconsciously, the possibility of living inside a kaleidoscope of extraordinary cultures and languages, an echo of the history, and the geographic position of the island, at the center of the Mediterranean…” says Paolo Buonvino about how much Sicily inspires his way of doing music: “I love to experiment, both in music and life. Let’s think about the Sicilian arancino (the traditional stuffed rice ball) for example, which is a natural metaphor of cultural union. Starting with the rice that originally was not cultivated in Sicily, from the saffron, a spice that belongs to other worlds along with the street food tradition which comes from the Arab culture. An arancino is a concentrate of diversity which makes life more enjoyable.”

This propensity of experimentation and admixture of cultures and styles is pretty evident in the song symbol of the Fátima soundtrack, “Gratia Plena,” sung by Italian opera tenor Andrea Bocelli and a children’s choir: “Since the movie talks about the epiphany of the Holy Mary, it came naturally to think about a Hail Mary,” says the composer, explaining the inspiration behind the song. “Obviously throughout the history of music there have been many interpretations of this hymn that are incomparable masterpieces. So, I thought of a different musical interpretation of the prayer. I imagined that from the vision of the three kids a universal dance of prayers would take off and would propagate all around the world. This musical dance is composed by just the incipit of the Holy Mary in 16 different languages to form one universal language sung by the children’s choir. Languages like Deutsch, Rwandese, Afrikaans, Arabic, Hebrew, Latin, Russian, Greek, Japanese… represent the possibility of speaking one language, and joyfully sing all together. Our differences do not impoverish us, they enrich us. Then the encounter with Andrea Bocelli was extraordinary. He sings on top of the choir a melody in different languages as well, and I thought about him as a sort of big brother who takes the kids by hand in this round dance.” 

Fátima has been an incredible adventure so far, produced here in the U.S. by James T. Volk of Origin Entertainment, Elysa Productions, Rose Productions, and distributed by Picturehouse. Placing strongly in the prestigious Oscars 2021 rundown, the movie is now distributed on Netflix and will be soon released theatrically. This production has been a very fruitful artistic exchange experience, as Buonvino recalls it: “since the beginning, there was a clear intent from both sides to tell something, there were no divisions, but I felt a great synergy and symbiosis. I felt comfortable and free to fully express my way of making music that was very well welcomed.”

As Spring and Easter celebrations approach, a reflection around the term “resurrection” does come to mind, not just in catholic terms, but universally. A reflection which is also part of Buonvino’s artistic discourse: “I believe that rebirth is a continual opportunity. Perhaps many don’t know that the term ‘peccato’ (sin in Italian), it’s the translation of an Ancient Greek word, ‘hamartia’, which technically means ‘to miss the target’. This is an extraordinary meaning because for me, to resurrect really means to attempt to get closer and to try not to miss the target of our happiness. Peccato (sin) is profoundly valuable if we think about it in these terms; it is a constant challenge that refines our aim and allows us to rebirth. Music allows you to go straight to your heart bypassing those cages, those stakes that keep us captives. Music is the key to open those cages. And once a cage is opened, we can better aim at the heart of our happiness.”

 That’s how much Paolo Buonvino believes in the curative function of music, and, consequently, also in the big responsibility that a musician should feel: “because of music’s influence on our souls, we musicians deal with something that is sacred. An artist cannot bluff, he has to be sincere. This honesty consists in letting your music come out of a visceral need of expression not out of vanity or bland virtuosity. Honesty allows art to be a true expression of the being. It’s not always easy to live up to this responsibility, I humbly try to maintain this line and never to betray myself and the people who listen to my music.”

Italian composer, conductor and music arranger Paolo Buonvino at work in his studio in Rome (Photo by Gianni Cipriano)

These elements, the constant experimentation, the mystical inspiration and the moral responsibility of the musician are some of the cornerstones of Paolo Buonvino’s artistic path which seems to be a journey of indefatigable discoveries and stages always oriented towards new horizons: “These elements are like an extraordinary compass that makes it much more enjoyable to do this privileged profession. And they incarnate today in the possibility of picking some jobs instead of others and allowing myself the artistic honesty and freedom to compose music that takes into consideration the requests of the commissioner, but at the same time it’s a gift per se, a limitless work of art.”

 Buonvino is currently working on the scores of two T.V. shows, one for Italian channel Sky and one for Netflix, and he is also working on his own projects, one in particular where he will be experimenting with artificial intelligence. As we are looking forward to enjoying these new musical journeys, let ourselves be inspired by Paolo Buonvino’s music, let her open those captive cages we feel imprisoned in, let her aim straight at the heart of our happiness, and of our vision into the future.



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