IMAGO – Thierry Malet

Original Review by Alan Rogers

From what I have seen, Cédric Babouche’s award-winning film Imago (2005) is a beautifully executed animated short. The film tells the simple story of Antoine and how he comes to terms with the death of his father (a pilot) in a plane crash. Dreams and reality merge as the boy grows, until we see him at the end of the film as a grandfather, trying to pass on his love of aircraft to his grandson. The film is beautifully animated (drawn in ink overlaid onto watercolour backdrops) and has a very effective 3D effect, particularly during the sequence when the boy imagines his toy plane is real and he flies side-by-side with his father into a storm. French-born composer Thierry Malet has composed almost two-dozen scores, mostly short films and TV movies in his native France and has composed a beautiful orchestral score for Imago that is full of pathos.

The story of the film is told without dialogue, therefore the film is very reliant on the composer’s music to emphasis both the action and the emotions. Malet chooses to let the visuals convey the action (though he does use a chorus and a swirling string device in “The Storm” for the scene with Antoine and his father to emphasise their peril). The composer focuses instead more on the emotional aspect of the film. In particular, there’s a sadness that’s evident towards the end of the album, with the piano being the instrument of choice to convey that element of sadness. Both “Sad Cliff” and “Adieu” feature sad piano lines that seems to be as a result of Antoine’s reflection (perhaps he is thinking back through his life). The latter half of the final track, “Adieu”, reminds me of somewhat of Satie’s Gnossiennes, No. 1. 

However, what dominates the score is a repeating motif played on what sounds like a marimba. Associated with this marimba rhythm are various orchestrations that are then worked around this rhythm (particularly in the strings). This repeated marimba motif – that is heard early on in the album – gives a sense of wonder, innocence and optimism. The harp, marimba and quena (a Columbian flute, similar to a shakuhachi but has a bit less of a blowing noise and can go higher than the Japanese flute), along with the perky tempo of “Opening” all reinforce this almost light-heartedness feel to the score. A sense of exotica or a dreamlike state is also suggested by the orchestration choices (Malet uses a whole number of percussive instruments including Bhutan bells, Chinese finger cymbals, Burmese and Tibetan bowls). The repeated use of the marimba in many of the cues (e.g., “Flight Valse Flashback”, “Antoine Climbs In The Plane” and “Fight In The Air”) does get a bit wearing after a while, and there’s a tendency to think of Thomas Newman’s American Beauty when the marimba’s rhythms are heard. Thomas Newman (this time Lemony Snicket) is also suggested by a particular string-driven passage in “Fight In The Air”. These references can be a bit distracting.

The tone of Malet’s score for Imago certainly changes from the first to the second-half of the album. And if the tracks as heard on the album reflect their appearance in the film then there’s clearly an erosion of Antoine’s innocence as the film progresses, leading to a sadness as he reflects on his life. Getting those feelings from the music does suggest that the composer has done his job of emotionally supporting the images and it would be interesting to see how the music plays in this short film. Although the frequent use of the marimba does get slightly annoying, the score is so short – 14 minutes in length – that nothing hangs around for too long. Thierry Malet’s music for his short films and TV work seems to appear frequently and regularly on digital medium online stores such as iTunes and Amazon and I have found his work to be worth seeking out. Perhaps this short score may be the ideal entry point for Thierry Malet’s scores.

Some additional comments made by composer Thierry Malet on his score to Imago:

…I did not want to keep [Imago] a strictly classical symphonic score but to give an access to…exotic landscapes. In this way, the music was coming from nowhere…I wanted to make different musical panels by editing the music several times in the score…I consider the music as an actor in a scene. If he has nothing to say, just let the silence speak.

Audio samples can be found HERE and then click on blue arrow next to running time for samples of entire album or individual tracks.

Rating: **½

  1. Opening (1:48)
  2. Flight Valse Flashback (1:40)
  3. Antoine Climbs In The Plane (1:11)
  4. Fight In The Air (1:41)
  5. The Storm (1:28)
  6. Sad Cliff (1:01)
  7. Life’s Calse (1:43)
  8. Adieu (3:24)

Running Time: 13:59

Plaza Mayor Company Ltd (2009)

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