Film scores

Soundtrack review: Backlight (Nuno Malo 2010, 2015)

K60

“Backlight” is a Portuguese film from 2010. From the trailer I figured it’s a movie with intertwined stories. Apparently a few people at critical stages in their lives are strangely brought together in the middle of the desert where they get a chance to save each other. The music of the trailer was one of the best atmospheric piece I’ve heard in years so I hope Nuno Malo’s score is in that vein. This is one of the types of movies I have a clear idea of how I’d like the score to sound.

The composer opens with an 8 minute cue. It’s bold and I like it. This is the type of start that could make or break a score for me. “Daniel saves the girl” begins as if the movie was ending. There’s a haunting male voice wailing in the background followed by a deep and elegiac motif that sounds as if it gathered in it all the events of the story. It’s the first cue but what if this beautiful and powerful composition has in it all the baggage the characters bring with them once the story begins? These are broken people on the verge of radical decisions and whatever brought them there is all in Nuno Malo’s hello. This is a very intelligent way to start the score and get the listener invested in the story. I feel like I’ve know these characters for a while now. This is how powerful the music is. This is how beautiful and intense this first cue is. The score could have ended with it and I would have been happy. But there’s still one hour of music to listen to which is even better.

For me, a dark minimalistic score like this can never fail. This is the kind of reflective music my mind and soul feed upon. “Backlight” is one of those airtight compositions that lures you in and then locks you inside. Nothing gets in and nothing gets out. Listening to this score is the cumulative effect of the wealth of emotions the composer put in there and what you as a listener bring with you. Is your heart opened enough for this exchange? Can you feel what Nuno Malo tells you? I can. I can feel it through my bones. I can feel the pain of each character as if it was my own and I can understand what Jay or Matt or Daniel go through because this score is a musical x-ray. I can mirror my own experiences and take comfort in the music.

“Backlight” is dense and poignant. Three minutes of this score feel like 20 from others. Each cue seems to leave echoes inside me that only get louder with the passing of time. The score seems to cumulate power like a tornado of feelings building up the more it swallows. The order of the cues is irrelevant, because you will probably end up listening to all of them. The story is made of a few convergent little stories and the music mirrors that. The haunting wordless vocals… the piano themes… the intimate moments… all of them come together in one of the most surprising and good scores I’ve heard this year. I know this score was written in 2010 but it would have been a crime not to release it. Kronos Records brings a gift for all film music lovers. Nuno Malo’s score will make your life feel a little richer and will make you look inside a little more attentively. Enjoy this ride, it will be worth it. Me, I will keep “Backlight” as a blanket for those moments when I will feel a cold claw trying to grip my heart.

Cue rating: 94 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 52 / 71

Album excellence: 74%

Highlights:

Daniel Saves The Girl

Jay’s Depression

Jay Takes Off From Home

Jay Almost Comits Suicide

Rooftop – Jay’s Theme – Film

Ending Slow Motion Alternate

Saudade – Helena’s Photograph

Matt Talks About His Past

Matt Calls The Tow Truck

Jay Calls His Friend

Motel 66

Matt Dies…..The Lake

Jay On The Top Of The Hill

Rofftop Near Fall

Mother Daughter Safety

Skylar On The Roof

The Signal Gathering – Slow M

Main Theme Resolutions

Matt’s Theme Reprise

Main Theme – Reprise

About the author

Mihnea Manduteanu

I have been listening to film music for 25 years and writing about it since 2014. I've written over 1000 reviews and I can't imagine myself doing anything else. I am also a member of IFMCA (International Film Music Critics Association).

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