Kristen Stewart owes a king-sized thank you to Olivier Assayas for aiding her startling transformation from Twilight moper to one of our age’s most reliably edgy and surprising screen actors. The French director first guided Stewart to greatness in his 2014 drama Clouds of Sils Maria and does it again in Personal Shopper, an eminently weird and stylish thriller that hit U.S. theaters on March 10, 2017. The high-profile collaboration has brought wide attention to the former film critic-turned-auteur who’s been a hero to cinephiles since establishing his voice in the 1990s with a string of extraordinary features.
Assayas’ impeccable musical taste and ability to match sound and vision have been apparent ever since he combined the image of leading lady Maggie Cheung clad in black leather with the dissonant snarl of Sonic Youth’s “Tunic (Song For Karen)” in his 1996 breakout Irma Vep. He later collaborated with the band on the score for 2002’s Demonlover and featured Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore in his 2006 music doc Noise. Gordon also has a bit part opposite Asia Argento in his 2007 thriller Boarding Gate.
Indeed, like Eurocinema peers Claire Denis (who’s enjoyed a long and fruitful alliance with Tindersticks) and Leos Carax (whose roster of musical collaborators ranges from Scott Walker to Kylie), Assayas has an approach to scores and soundtracks that’s far more adventurous and sophisticated than the predictable hit parades in most Hollywood fare and the played-out, random mixtape-sensibility of Quentin Tarantino, Wes Anderson, and their legions of wannabes.
This survey of music from such Assayas essentials as Clean, a drama featuring an exhilarating performance by a then-breaking Metric, and Carlos, a mini-series about Carlos the Jackal scored by Wire—originally with songs by the Feelies until they objected to being used alongside images of terrorism—includes songs that he used for highly dramatic and memorable purposes.