Festival de Cannes 2015

Cinematographer Benoît Debie, SBC, discusses his work on Gaspar Noé’s film “Love”

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Belgian cinematographer Benoît Debie, SBC, recently worked with Wim Wenders on Every Thing Will Be Fine and with Ryan Gosling on Lost River. Now a fixture in Gaspar Noé’s world after having filmed Irreversible and Enter the Void, Benoît Debie is once again working with the director on Love, a film that has sparked lots of discussion on the “Croisette” at Cannes. This 3D sexual melodrama tells the story of a torrid love affair that contains all sorts of promises, games, and excesses, was selected for the 68th Cannes Film Festival in the Midnight Screening.

Love is a film that is very different from the usual feel of Gaspar Noé’s movies, can you tell us a bit about how you worked on it ?

Benoît Debie : First of all, it was shot in 3D. Secondly, there was no moving camera, there are practically only still shots. After I had finished shooting on Wim Wenders’ film Every Thing Will Be Fine, I suggested to Gaspar that we film in 3D. But he was afraid of how constraining and expensive that might be. He did some research, we did a few tests together, and he finally said yes to the 3D. It is a very sober film that is different from anything we have done together in the past. The still shots, the bodies that occupy the space like in a photograph, and the 3D all combine to give the feeling of a painting in relief. It is really breath-taking.

Is this a new way to use 3D ?

BD : Yes, exactly right. My experience on Wim’s film convinced me that it is possible to use 3D to better tell a story and not just to entertain the viewer. That is also the way that Gaspar and I considered the use of 3D in this film.

Did you light the movie differently for filming in 3D, and also for filming the actors’ bodies and their skin ?

BD : The lighting was very natural, very sober. We didn’t shoot in studio, we had a very small crew, and I only had one grip/gaffer. It was like working on a short, with a single van and all of our equipment in it ! I didn’t use any professional spots, no gelatine, just light bulbs or lamps. And newspaper to block out the outside light !

You also made a choice relative to the depth of field, which has a big influence on the film’s visuals…

BD : Indeed, I didn’t want to give in to the pressure of using a closed aperture to film in 3D. Because high depth of field is what I really don’t like about digital films ! So, I kept the aperture open. I adjusted the camera settings to work on the texture and the noise so I wouldn’t have a polished image ; on the contrary, I wanted a structured image, with graininess.
But beyond the camera settings, I worked as though I were filming using film stock. I really forced the contrast and the under-exposure… Because people always say that digital is more sensitive, but that’s not true ! It’s interesting to see whether or not it can handle those artistic choices.

What is your working relationship with Gaspar Noé like ?

BD : With Gaspar, we don’t prepare a lot of things in advance. He likes to “take advantage” of the unforeseen circumstances and imperfections that occur during shooting. He prefers spontaneity. He doesn’t really provide me with a lot of direction for the image in advance, we talk about it on set and then I do the lighting… I propose things, and if he likes them, we go with what I’ve proposed. If not, I change it. We work according to our intuition in the heat of the moment, and now that we are beginning to know each other well, it’s all become simple and smooth.

Colour timing is an important step in the making of a movie in 3D, because both sets of images must be identical to one another. What was that finalization like ?

BD : I saved my images in Raw format, and I was very careful on the way I set up the cameras so that the two images would be as close as possible to one another. The film was almost completely colour timed during shooting, the exposure and the colour were already there, and that enabled Gaspar to see an almost-definitive image right on set.
There wasn’t the type of colour timing session most films have. We did the colour timing when we edited the film. Because we didn’t screen the dailies, there wasn’t a screening after colour timing either. I’m going to see the final version for the first time on the big screen at Cannes !

What equipment did you use ?

BD : A Red Dragon camera and Leica Summilux lenses. I had used the Alexa on Wim Wender’s film, but the Red Dragon is more compact and was better-suited to the small size of our crew on this project. This camera produces beautiful results on skin when the light is warm. We used Screenplay’s German rig, which is a light rig I discovered for the first time on Wim’s film. You can use a shoulder camera with it. Gaspar was really concerned with how much space a rig and two cameras would take up… I think it was when he discovered this very small rig that he decided on 3D !

(Interview conducted by Brigitte Barbier for the AFC, and translated from French by Alex Raiffe)