Bruno Nuytten at the Cinémathèque française: "a critical lens"

By Jean-Noël Ferragut, AFC

by Jean-Noël Ferragut AFC newsletter n°296

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To Bruno Nuytten and Caroline Champetier, AFC
Although it might seem an exaggeration, this little wink at Robert Doisneau is the opportunity to remind our readers that over a dozen members of the AFC – and I may not have had the opportunity of recognizing everyone in attendance – attended a nearly-full auditorium on Wednesday, 20 March at 8pm to support Bruno Nuytten at the opening of the retrospective that was dedicated to him at the Cinémathèque française.

After the glass of bubbly offered by the hosts during a cocktail hour that provided the opportunity of rediscovering old acquaintances, sometimes ones from over fifty years ago, for the “happy few” who, like me, studied in the same classrooms as him, the evening mostly went exactly as planned as everyone was in fine form.

Frédéric Bonnaud, the host, made the usual introductions, citing amongst the partners the AFC, Transpalux and L’image retrouvée. He also mentioned that this retrospective could not have taken place without Caroline’s gift of persuasion, as she was able to convince Bruno. Lastly, he shared Caroline’s great disappointment at not being able to be in attendance that evening.
Bernard Payen, a fine connoisseur – and the author of the introduction of the Spring 2019 programme – lauded Nuytten’s work and career, but without the soaring lyrical and verbal oratory that, dare I say it, were characteristic of Frédéric’s predecessor!
Happily, Bruno was there with us, in flesh and bone, he was applauded and given a rare ovation when he arrived in the first row! This reminded me of Camerimage, where DoPs are applauded as soon as their name appears in the credits, whether they’re well-known or not.

Bruno Nuytten, in profil, Frédéric Bonnaud and Bernard Payen, facing the front rows - Photo Thierry Stefanopoulos - Cinémathèque française
Bruno Nuytten, in profil, Frédéric Bonnaud and Bernard Payen, facing the front rows
Photo Thierry Stefanopoulos - Cinémathèque française

True to form and faithful to himself, for those of us who know Bruno! Humble, sincere and funny, when the occasion presents itself, Bruno began to discuss his work without egocentrism or self-aggrandizement. His career trajectory and the luck he had of meeting the right people at the right times are the dream of every cinematographer. The men and women who molded and influenced him, such as Ghislain Cloquet, his teacher at the INSAS and his mentor in terms of lighting (the black-and-white of Feu follet will remain a magisterial lesson in lighting for us all) – Ghislain who had decided that Bruno would be his “heir”… Whatever errors he may have made along the way have enabled him to progress. As for the men and women who have worked alongside him and who have shared n his work, he made sure to cite all of his assistants by name (including a number of friends and acquaintances from the AFC).
Lastly, he spoke about the films that he had chosen to screen during the evening. Some of the copies of these films were not up to par, which allowed him to make the sad observation that the auteur cinema of the 1970s is decaying rapidly (Frédéric Bonnaud had lamented earlier that there is no good remaining copy of Barocco available today).
He also reminded us of this fundamental truth: it’s up to us cinematographers—and some of us already do it when they are able to—to take things into hand! He also expressed deep regret that said cinematographers aren’t always informed of the restorations and digitalisations of some of the films they have created.

We then saw four films: Nathalie Granger, by Marguerite Duras, a B&W film shot by Ghislain in person, who Bruno was assisting, featuring Jeanne Moreau and Lucia Bosè, and one of the first-ever appearances by Gérard Depardieu on screen, but which, in my humble opinion, sort of threw a wet blanket on the rest of the evening. During a sort of intermission that followed the screening, with the humour made possible by the necessary hindsight he has always been able to acquire with time, Bruno recognized that “there were some slow parts”. Then, he presented three prehistoric UFOs exhumated from his earliest filmography, which were improbable adventures in the form of short films by Pascal Kané, Luc Béraud and Gérard Zingg. Three of his earliest friendships which enabled him to meet the people that contributed to his well-known career.
And after the word "FIN" showed on the credits of Luc’s film, the moment to get up, to say goodbye, and to leave one another came, and he left accompanied by the last applause…

(Translated from French by Alexander Baron-Raiffe)

This article’s thumbnail shows Bruno Nuytten, Frédéric Bonnaud and Bernard Payen during the opening ceremony – Photo Nathalie Durand