Cinematographer Eponine Momenceau discusses her work on Jacques Audiard’s film "Dheepan"

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His first feature film, See How They Fall, was screened at Cannes, and three of Jacques Audiard’s subsequent films were selected to be in the Official Competition : A Self-Made Hero, Best Screenplay in 1996, A Prophet, Grand Jury Prize in 2009, and Rust and Bone, in 2012. For his seventh feature film, Dheepan, which is in the Official Competition of the 68th Cannes Film Festival, Jacques Audiard chose an unknown aspiring actor to play the lead role, like Tahar Rahim and Reda Kateb in A Prophet(BB)

They do not know one another, and… a former rebel soldier, a young woman, and a little girl pretend to be a family in order to be evacuated from their war-torn country. Upon arrival in France, they have to adapt to a new mode of existence, in a violent housing project. It is there that this imaginary family will, over the course of time and the events they face together, learn to form a "real" family.

They do not know each other, and yet…
A graduate of La fémis’ Image Department in 2011, Eponine Momenceau directed an experimental film screened at the Palais de Tokyo in 2013 and a film for Arte, Jungle, as part of the Atelier Ludwigsburg-Paris - La fémis. Her artistic approach is summarized by a "an attempt to put contemporary elements into perspective with older representations". She was the director of photography for several short films and then one day…
... Jacques Audiard calls. He saw her film Waves Become Wings at the Palais de Tokyo, and he wants to offer her the job of director of photography on his next film, because he is interested in combining cinema and contemporary art. A few days later, she was asked to do tests for the film.

Eponine Momenceau feels that over the course of their conversations, Jacques Audiard reconsiders his vision of the screenplay and explores his visual tastes. Then he calls to confirm that he wants to work with her, he wants a new direction for his movies, he doesn’t like feeling like he’s just sailing forward.
During the search for the location of the home, one of sets of the film, she films images that can potentially be used in the film. These images will not end up in Dheepan but Eponine remarks : "It allowed us to get to know one another better."
She thinks that Jacques appreciated how she filmed her short films. Their discussions about the film’s visuals were exciting, sometimes destabilizing, and a source of many questions, because "it was a bit like getting dizzy faced with the number of possibilities, we had discussions regarding the shape of the film but nothing concrete really came out of it before we really started shooting. "

Jacques Audiard, Jean-Baptiste Pouilloux, 1<sup class="typo_exposants">er</sup> assistant réalisateur, et Eponine Momenceau sur le tournage de "Dheepan" en Inde - DR
Jacques Audiard, Jean-Baptiste Pouilloux, 1er assistant réalisateur, et Eponine Momenceau sur le tournage de "Dheepan" en Inde

The heavy lifting, from preparations to shooting !
"We thought we’d shoot a lot of the scenes on a tripod and we ended up shooting a lot of them from the shoulder. As we weren’t dealing with professional actors, they first had to get comfortable with the scene. I watched how they would use the space, I had a viewfinder with a zoom and I would look for the right angle.
Sometimes, when we reread the notes regarding editing we had taken during the preparatory readings of the script, we would indicate a choice of scenes or camera movements. There were lots of scenes where we moved from one place inside to the outdoors and we used a Steadicam for those scenes.”

Lighting a Jacques Audiard film…
“He often wanted to be able to use all 360° of a set with the lighting set up before shooting with as few adjustments as possible. But of course adjustments were needed between shots.”
Eponine set up a lot of overhead lights, which isn’t easy to do when filming in a low-ceilinged flat…

About the style…
“Jacques wanted us to feel the exotic gaze of the Tamil newcomers to Paris. For example, he didn’t want the housing project to be too grey. It’s hard to make a grey housing project not look grey on the screen… How do you do it without making it look artificial ? All of the indoor locations where the Indians lived were decorated in Indian style, with neons, cyans, and colours.”
There, Eponine felt she had great support from Michel Barthélémy, the production designer, who was always thinking of the lighting for each set, he would choose very appropriate wallpapers and colours for the walls. Phew !
Besides the decoration, the other gift was the help given by her crew, Marianne Lamour, the gaffer, and Edwin Broyer, the key grip.
But also, she had to manage the Tamils’ skin colour, their very black and very shiny hair that reflected the light.
"When I adjusted the settings using white skin as a test, I hated the lighting, but when Kali and Anthony, the actors, would arrive, it ended up being great !”

Eponine used the most powerful lights in Sri Lanka. There, she used Mole Beams, which are powerful spotlights, and she placed them far in the distance in order to light the jetty which was completely in the dark. She also used 18 kWs on a crane, the only light coming in through a window, in order to obtain high contrast.
She also used a Ring Light, especially at night, for frontal lighting, but she never used them on the lenses. She also used boxes set up with Kino Flo bulbs, created by Pierre Michaud, the gaffer, with whom she worked on certain parts of the film.

She tested the Sony F55 and found that it did a very good job rendering skin tone and other colours. It was fortunate that she chose this compact camera and hyper light because, as she already said, a lot of the scenes ended up being filmed from the shoulder. Eponine opted for Cooke S3 series lenses, which she likes because of their flaws : they have a tendency to vignette or to flare, which “breaks up the digital effect." She often used them without "matte boxes" and without a filter, in order to be able to handle the camera however she pleased.
Otherwise, she also used the Angénieux Optimo 24-290mm zoom lenses for very slow zooms and long focus length shots. She also used a Mitchell filter to reduce the sharpness.

Lenses, Camera, and Settings…
800 ISO at night because beyond that, there is noise in the image. But 1200 ISO for the day, in order to have as much flexibility as possible in the high lights… And then the LUT : a film LUT that reproduces the colors of Kodak film and gives the image body in some of the film’s scenes.

Regrets ?
Yes…"Not being able to watch the dailies together because the shooting took up all of our time. Suddenly, we discovered the film during colour timing on the big screen. Then we had to readdress the subject of the visuals, make adjustments and rebalance the colours, all whilst moving as fast as possible because of Cannes.” Stressful…

On shooting her first feature film with Jacques Audiard ...
"That’s a great first question : how do you propose another technique of filming when the one he already used in his past films is extremely interesting ?
It means being reactive. Not setting up too much in advance (generally speaking), having good instincts and making lots of suggestions. Being receptive to unforeseen circumstances and be flexible because Jacques Audiard doesn’t like feeling that things have been predetermined, and that the actors can’t move because there are flags all over the place. Putting as much lighting as possible off set.
Learning about his method of directing the actors. He lets them make suggestions and adjusts their acting and their movements in function of what they say. The set and the acting get constructed simultaneously, little by little. The actors guide the form, the sets, and the lighting, and not the other way round.”

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