Anthony Dod Mantle, DFF, BSC, ASC, discusses the shooting of "Radioactive", by Marjane Satrapi

By Margot Cavret for the AFC

[ English ] [ français ]

This year, Camerimage celebrated the 550th anniversary of the birth of astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus at Toruń. Besides the exceptional showing of the painting Astronomer Copernicus or Conversations with God for the length of the festival, and two conferences on the theme of the connection between science and cinematography, the organizers also concocted a special retrospective of films that portrayed some of the most revolutionary scientists of the past century. On Wednesday, the film Radioactive was screened for the second time since it was first selected at the festival’s special session in 2019. This was the occasion for cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle, DFF, BSC, ASC, to present the film, whose theatrical release was interrupted by the quarantines of 2020.

Anthony Dod Mantle is a habitué of the festival, which has already recognized him with three awards : the Bronze Frog for Snowden (2016) and First they Killed My Father (2017), and the Golden Frog for Slumdog Millionaire (2008). His first film, Festen, continues to fascinate audiences, and on the occasion, the audience didn’t hesitate to depart from the theme of that day’s Q&A session to ask him about that film. The cinematographer replied enthusiastically and clearly to the questions about a film he had shot over 25 years ago : “This film’s DNA was a quest for spontaneity and pure emotions. We didn’t prepare anything in advance, and I tried not to think about what I was doing, just to be entirely spontaneous. This is a film we shot with a Betacam, which enabled us to be extremely mobile. There are even shots that we took with the camera on a boom ! Dogma 95 was a fun idea, but it is also important to learn the rules before you break them.”

This first film attracted the attention of Danny Boyle, with whom the cinematographer has shot many films. “He had just completed a film that was very technically elaborate and involved that had been shot by Darius Khondji, and he wanted a change and to do something different. Together, we worked to seek out an emotional, spontaneous, and impulsive image. Without necessarily having to carry the camera, our idea was still to remain open and connected with our subjects. I hate huge matteboxes, I need to see the comedians, and feel their closeness.”

"Festen" de Thomas Vinterberg (1998)
"Festen" de Thomas Vinterberg (1998)

Nonetheless, Anthony Dod Mantle has been able to remain free and has not boxed himself into the style that his first films might have dictated. He is always seeking new challenges, and with Radioactive, he joined a very different kind of project, with a very involved graphical aspect. “When I read a script, I try to picture the film and to imagine what tools will be best suited for it. Radioactive is a soft and elegant film, that needed more traveling tracks than shoulder cameras. I shot it with the Alexa 65, I was in search of softness, and I sometimes had to increase the ISOs for some on-location scenes, and then I would apply a noise reduction treatment.”

“When I received this script, I felt attracted by the story and the challenge that making a historical film involves. I didn’t know much about the story of Marie Curie, and the period was visually interesting to me. I was also a bit intimidated about working with Marjane Satrapi, who is a great visual artist. In the end, as soon as we met, I felt I had known her for years. She trusted me and I felt free. As she draws a lot, it was easy to communicate with her about the image. She storyboarded a few sequences, especially those concerning Pierre Curie’s accident, which was a difficult scene that we didn’t have much time for. She is also very comfortable in science, and when she spoke to me in preparation, I was often lost, because personally, I know nothing about science ! I had to learn a form of philosophy of science, and I realized that it had a lot to do with filmmaking : experimenting with the assemblage of different elements (colors, contrast, sound, screenplay, etc.) to produce a reaction.”

The film is adapted from a graphic novel, Radioactive : Marie and Pierre Curie : A Tale of Love and Fallout. Beyond depicting the scientist, the story also portrays the love story between Pierre and Marie Curie. Marjane Satrapi also paid a lot of attention to the obstacles and injustice that Marie Curie had to face throughout her career because of her gender. “We tried to keep the book’s visual heart intact, and at the same time to remain within an image that would be emotionally close to the character. We tried to convey her passion for science in an almost erotic way. Marjane and I looked at a lot of paintings. We talked a great deal about color in relationship to the characters. She really adores color, and I used a lot of different spots and gels. She was also present during color timing and for her, it was like painting. She has a real scientific and technological curiosity, and sometimes she even wanted to operate the colorist’s equipment herself !”

(Transcribed by Margot Cavret for the AFC, and translated from French by A. Baron-Raiffe)