Sunday, December 20, 2015

Le Fils du Requin (Son of the Shark) Soundtrack - Music composed by Bruno Coulais - (String Orchestra and String Quartet unknown - Until I check the credits again!) Vogue Recordings, 1993

It's ultra-rare soundtrack time. "Les Fils du Requin" which translates as "Son of a Shark" was director Agnes Merlet's first film. It is one of my favorite films of all time, and I found it utterly mesmerizing when I first rented it around 1994 (Yes, on good ol' VHS! In some ways I miss the "cassette era", although I suppose it's more nostalgia than anything else - who among us misses the tape tangling, the de-magnetizing/degradation of the tape, or the extra minute it took to rewind or fast forward?? 

After all in the 21st century we have (((no time))) to spare! (Yes, now we can do meaningful things in 5 seconds flat..such as sharing a meme of a hilarious cat, or showing 500 of our closest friends via pixels that we are in the midst of a fantastic steak dinner) I am getting off-topic, I think I'll stop ;) So the film itself has never had an official dvd release, making it extremely hard to find (there are a few bootlegged style dvds one can buy) however not as difficult as the soundtrack; this is about as obscure as it gets, the cd was released and available for a very short time, primarily in France and Belgium.

CD cover to the ultra-rare soundtrack 
This is also one of my absolute favorite soundtracks, and aurally it adorns the cinematic images richly and powerfully. The majority of the music is scored for strings, such as the gorgeous main theme for small string orchestra and plucked cellos. Otherwise the material is chamber music, although there are also chansons, some with string accompaniment-which is a rare thing for a soundtrack. Bruno Coulais composed imho truly exciting string quartet music for the film. With moods swinging from jaunty to despairing, quiet to adrenalized, the quartet adds electrifying, raw emotional power to the film. Unfortunately a good deal of the soundtrack is not offered on this recording (the duration of the disc is only 30 minutes or so), I have no idea why this should be however I find it very frustrating indeed. So to get my fix I watch the entire film :)  After the very first viewing of "Le Fils du Requin" I wanted to contact the composer to find out if the music was excerpts or movements from larger works (I was thinking a string quartet..) as well as to inquire about acquiring the "proper" full-length soundtrack. Needless to say in 1994 one couldn't easily contact a person electronically. I still do not know the answers, as I never tried to contact the composer since (dunno why).

The film follows two young sociopathic brothers Martin and Simon (12 and 10) who live in a gloomy, working-class seacoast town of Lignan. Their father is an abusive alcoholic and we learn that their mother fled leaving them essentially to fend for themselves. The brothers are incorrigible vandals; Martin runs away from reform school, Simon from foster homes, and they always find each other by returning to the seacoast neighborhood (the string quartet is used to depict these scenes of the brothers fleeing, running full speed throughout the late night hours) where their destructive behavior is infamous. They spend their days roaming around without reason, returning to their father's apartment only a few times during the film (they try to find refuge in cargo cars and within the skeletal remains of a crushed and fire-damaged bus that sits by the shore...did I mention that the bus is part of the nautical landscape because in the first scene they steal the vehicle from a lot, drive it towards a cliff and at the last minute jump out before it meets it's demise?). As night falls their marauding heightens as they destroy storefronts, break in to businesses and slingshot-smash the occasional streetlight. Like the film itself, Martin is philosophical, romantic, and highly poetic: he dreams of being the son of a shark; he holds tight to a book about goldfish his mother gave him. In faltering, wild and even violent ways, he tries to court Marie, a neighborhood girl. The younger brother Simon is the more wacked out of the two, and his violent tendencies are stronger (he holds up two young teenage girls at knifepoint threatening them for their clothing as it's winter and they need to layer up-he makes the girls strip and degraded, they run home with an icy rain falling. 

The theme music is often accompanied by beautiful, haunting images of schools of fish swimming. Early on the brothers break into a cinema and manage to get the projector working-it is here that the fish are initially projected onto the screen and the main theme is heard. 

First scene...make sure to read the lyrics to "Nathalie Elle Est Jolie". Children's music?!

Simon forces Marie to visit Martin

Simon is nuts


I wish I could find better captures from the film. There are many visually beautiful scenes.

Martin "rehearsing" for his meeting with Marie

Their detachment from others, self-inflicted isolation and the constant lack of any real existential meaning makes one come to the conclusion that they literally wish that they could join the glimmering school of fish and "disappear".. which is a constant word in their nihilistic vocabulary. I hate to sound like an extreme depressive but this film has always resonated with me (the pain and the poetry, the isolation - as pacified through finding beauty in things....not the behaviors!)

*Here is a section from an interview with Bruno Coulais (from ScoreKeeper) where the music for  "Son of a Shark" is discussed:

SK: I’ve been familiar with your work for more than fifteen years. You are one of those composers I’ve always admired and I was really excited when you were hired to score CORALINE. I was especially thrilled that US audiences might have the opportunity to become more familiar with your work. The first film where I discovered your music was LE FILS DU REQUIN (SON OF THE SHARK, 1993) which I mentioned in my initial review of your score for CORALINE earlier this year. 

BC: Yes, I know! It’s fantastic because for me it is a very vibrant movie and I loved to score it. I was very happy and proud that you noticed this work. 

SK: It’s a beautiful film. To this day, I think it has the two greatest child acting performances of any film I’ve ever seen in my lifetime. The two kids in that movie were fantastic! 

BC: Absolutely! I think the director, Agnès Merlet, is very gifted and this isn’t her best piece, but I think she is able to do new interesting films. I hope so. It’s true…the two kids were fantastic. They were so realistic. It’s a great movie, I think. 

SK: You don’t see children completely absorbing their character like you see in that film. 

BC: It’s true. We were looking at what type of music to compose on this film and it’s funny to bring violence with that kind of instrumentation, you know? Today I think there is a problem with music in most movies because if you don’t use a large orchestra, a lot of producers aren’t happy. It’s a pity that most composers aren’t allowed to be more inventive and to sometimes use fewer instruments to try something new. 

SK: I totally agree. I’m a huge fan of chamber music film scores. They are so rare these days. I think in the past, twenty years ago and even longer, you heard a lot of these interesting instrumental color combinations. Today, orchestration is just a template. I wish there was more variety in instrumentation choices and combinations. 

BC: It’s true and it’s a pity to use music like that. In France, almost all the edits use temp music. For me, it's the same thing because sometimes we do the same music or all the music has the same harmony, orchestrations, or feelings. It's stupid! 

SK: Regarding SON OF THE SHARK, it’s practically impossible to find. It was available on VHS many years ago but quickly went out-of-print. Have you heard any word on any possible DVD release in the future? How about a possible re-release of your score? 

BC: I don’t know. From memory, I think the DVD doesn’t exist, but maybe I can write to find out. 

SK: As somebody in a position to talk about and recommend films…This is one that would be at the top of my list but it’s a film that nobody can see nor hear. It’s very frustrating. It’s such a great film. 

BC: It’s a pity really. I hope that changes very soon. 

Bruno Coulais has written many exceptional scores, as well as composing concert music. There's a nice disc on Avie of his Requiem, I will try to locate my copy. 

Track listing:

1) Nathalie Elle Est Jolie (03:16) 
2) Le Fils Du Requin (02:46) 
3) Quatuor #1 (01:49) 
4) Poisson Va Dans l'Eau (Quatuor) (02:52) 
5) Harmoniques (01:12) 
6) L'Arrestation (01:47) 
7) Quatuor #2 (01:46) 
8) Poisson Va Dans l'Eau (Chanson) (02:51) 
9) Le Quatuor De Nathalie (02:10) 
10) Le Quatuor De La Mer (03:10) 
11) Le Fils Du Requin (Chanson) (02:45) 
12) Poisson Va Dans l'Eau (03:45) 
13) Le Fils Du Requin (Quatuor) (02:42) 

I hope everyone enjoys this music as much as I do.

Le_Fils_Du_Requin(Son of a Shark)


DarkS said...

This is absolutely great music as you said. Thank you. You are clearly fond of the macabre, and darker subjects in am I :)

alfred venison said...

thank you. nice review/interview. i look forward to hearing this. -a.v.

K. W. Jeter said...

DVD available here:

Tzadik said...

DarkS I am happy you enjoyed this; I find this to be special music, and true quality as far as soundtracks go (there's many fine soundtracks0and this is to me a high example-music for film or the concert hall imo..the chamber music anyhow)


Tzadik said...

Hi there Alfred, thank you for your kind words! I do hope you enjoyed this rare share. If you have the time, do come back and share what you think of it :)



Tzadik said...

Hi K W

I know the dvd is out there, sadly though it's rough transfers from the VHS, not official releases. I transferred mine to dvd myself and the quality while not perfect, keeps me happy :)