17 Girls

17 filles

Paru le La Lettre AFC n°215 Autres formats

[English] [français]

Jean-Louis Vialard, AFC, only became interested in the cinema rather late in his life. Originally from France’s Cantal region, he admits that he hadn’t been to the movies more than twenty times before he turned twenty-two. After interrupting his engineering studies and travelling extensively, he decided to sit for the entrance exams for the Ecole Louis-Lumière and was admitted to study at that institution.

His passion for nature and his admiration for Jean Rouch’s films have led him to film documentaries across the globe. He currently spends his time filming advertisements, working on collaborations with visual artists, and filming feature films – Dans Paris (Inside Paris) by Christophe Honoré, Qu’un seul tienne et les autres suivront by Léa Fehner, or Tropical Malady by Apitchatpong Weerasethakul.
He was present at the Cannes Film Festival in 2011 for his feature film co-directed by his partner and her sister (Delphine and Muriel Coulin).
This was the sisters’ first film and was entirely photographed with Canon 1D and 5D cameras. (F. R.)

What was the idea behind 17 filles ?
Jean-Louis Vialard : It was an original screenplay that was instantly a success. Delphine and Muriel took a news story from the USA, played around with it, and set it in Lorient, the city where they spent their teenage years. As for their influences, I think that this film is in the same vein as Gus Van Sandt’s films, or perhaps Naissance des pieuvres (Water Lilies) by Céline Sciamma. It is a simply-filmed story about adolescence without any moving cranes or unnecessary sophistication.
This is one of the reasons that we were pleased with the choice of the Canon camera. We really wanted to be free, light, and reactive, especially since the municipality of Lorient’s warm welcome gave us the ability to easily change our minds and adapt our sequences to conditions on location.

So it wasn’t because of your budget ?
J.-L. V. : No, it wasn’t only because of our budget. The film was financed by a lot of partners : the CNC, the Region of Brittany, Canal+, and Arte, and in the end we had over a 2 million Euro budget. But, it wasn’t enough to allow us to consider 35mm because of the limited takes. So, we had decided to use the new Arri Alexa that was supposed to be released in June 2010, but they had a ‘workflow’ problem while we were doing our trials, and I wasn’t able to test it out.
So, we tested a Super 16, a RED camera, an HD Panasonic, and the Canon 5D. Our test results showed that the images were so grainy on the Super 16 that we decided to give up on actual film. After, we looked at the images from a small sensor camera (Panasonic) that was able to shoot videos, and the images from the Canon which were so much more natural than those from the RED.
This observation was confirmed by an image we exposed normally using a greyscale test pattern, which we were able to grade with no problem as long as we didn’t play around too much with the raw image. Besides, grading this film was so simple thanks to the talent of Aude Humblet, who was really able to get the most out of this fragile medium.

What didn’t you like about the RED’s images during your tests ?
J.-L. V. : When we graded the images from the RED to get neutral skin tones, green parts, such as the lawn, became a mustard-coloured mass. It was extremely disconcerting ! As for the Super 16, I have to say that I don’t understand how French labs are able to produce such catastrophic results in terms of granulation and image quality.
When you see similar tests run by German or even Romanian labs, I think that the only possible conclusion is that the French labs are deliberately trying to kill the Super 16 in France. Regarding this subject, I plan to run a series of tests with the AFC by sending three rolls of film that have been exposed in the same conditions to three different European labs and comparing the results with a 2K digital projection.
In retrospect, what would you say about filming with the Canon ?

J.-L. V. : The camera is capable of producing really astonishing images, as long as you accept it’s limitations. Using a half-aperture on an insert is really felt during grading. I always had to keep a hand on the aperture ring to compensate for any wrong colours by looking at my Marshall monitor that has a coloured ‘zebra’ that really came in handy for that !
As for the lenses, I chose a Zeiss CP 2 series with a Canon lens mount. But, because of pressure from production, we surrounded ourselves with guarantees concerning the camera, and refused to accept it for what it was. The result : we found ourselves with three video feedbacks, including a HD screen for an assistant who checked the image in real-time and made sure there were no errors such as spots, exposition problems, or moiré effect. The camera was on a Movietube photo rig with an HDMI splitter and its accessories — HF feedback and ‘remote focus’ — and became a 50cm-long object, even more cumbersome than an HD camera ! Then there were all the cables and batteries that got in the way… Compared with what I used to work with while filming fiction in New York with a small team, or the few ‘retakes’ using the Canon 5D, it was really very overdone and unnecessary. When you film with the Canon, you have to accept that you’re going to be ‘travelling light’ and work with the least possible number of people to go quickly and do what you can’t do otherwise.

Were there any particular moments during filming that you felt you really got the most out of the camera ?
J.-L. V. : For example, there is a dialogue between the heroine and her brother that was filmed at the beach during the hour around sunset. I began filming at 100 ISO and ended at 2,000 ISO, and the increase in noise really isn’t a problem. Only the blues vibrate a bit, but nothing that can’t be corrected during grading.
As for the light, I just cut the redness of the sun by reframing with a small frame, and used a reflector for the faces. Honestly, even using film, I don’t see how else I could have filmed this scene, which lasts for almost two minutes in the edited version.

What about indoor shots ?
J.-L. V. : Decorative light fixtures were often our principal light sources whilst filming indoors, such as the ceiling light in the car, or the young heroine’s bedroom which was lit with a simple 40W bulb in a red lampshade. We ended up blocking out or reducing any natural light sources. I remember that during the entire week we filmed in the high school, the most we did was to take one 4-tube Kino Flo projector out of the truck ! It even became a joke amongst us, to the point where my gaffer, Pierre Michaud, mentioned ‘unlighting’ every day when he arrived on set !

It is often said that it’s better to underexpose the images obtained with this camera…Did you notice that, too ?
J.-L. V. : Yes, that makes it easier to bring out the dark areas during grading, but you still don’t have a lot of latitude. At the same time, French art house movies often display the tendency to ‘darken’ the image. When you don’t have a lot of money and you want to create a ‘style’, that seems to be the magic solution ! Honestly, I find that to be not only a cop-out, but the result isn’t always nice : I prefer dynamic images to resorting to dark for dark’s sake !
That’s why I always try to stand up to directors by showing them that you can use an image that seems too bright on set because even if it is highly densified, at the end of production it will be more dynamic than an image that was purposefully underexposed at the camera.

(Interview conducted by François Reumont for the AFC during the film’s selection at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival, and published on the AFC’s website)