Cinematographer JF Hensgens AFC, SBC talks about his collaboration on Joachim Lafosse’s last movie “A perdre la raison”

par Jean-Francois Hensgens

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Jean François Hensgens SBC, who joined the AFC in 2010, began his career as First AC on the Dardenne’s brothers movies La Promesse, Rosetta and Le Fils. He was then assisting Alain Marcoen SBC, long time cinematographer of the famous directors.
He photographed his first movie in 2004 : Fratricide a film by Yelmas Arslan and then started his collaboration with Olivier Van Hoofstad on the 2 movies : Dikkenek and Go Fast.
Later he shot Banlieue 13-Ultimatum by Patrick Alessandrin, Tête de Turc by Pascal Elbé, Cat Run and Darktide by John Stockwell.
Joachim Lafosse’s last script is based on a real tragic story : a mother of five, killed her children by cutting their throat. This horrible story shocked whole Belgium five years ago.
For this drama, Emilie Dequenne ( Rosetta in the Dardenne’s film) and the partners from Le Prophète , Jacques Audiard’s actors , Niels Arestrup and Tahar Rahim joined the casting.
Jean-François Hensgens, AFC,SBC et Joachim Lafosse - Fabrizio Maltese
Jean-François Hensgens, AFC,SBC et Joachim Lafosse
Fabrizio Maltese

Is it your first time collaboration with Joachim ?

Jean-François Hensgens : No the first time was for a medium short film named entre les mots, It went very well with Joachim, “between words” ,exactly as I may say( laughs). The complicity was immediate between us, everything looked so natural, evident, almost without any words. This film is then a second time collaboration. Joachim is really attentive and listening to his partners, professional colleagues, he is more than listening, he is in demand. It is not so easy for him because being so open, that could lead to doubts. But at the same time, it is very creative.

Did Joachim have particular demands or wishes to lens this heartbreaking drama ?
JFH : He showed me many stills, especially William Eggleston’s work. Joachim’s father is a still photographer. He is very sensible to the language of the picture. He wished to have a bright photography with emotions and character. As we are facing a drama, he did not want to have a soft and shy image. At the same time, he did not want to be “overdramatic” with a murky image. The pressure of working with children was important in making the definitive choices. The light was to be “efficient” because in some scenes we could not have multiple takes and we sometimes did not have the idea where the scene was leading us. The direction concept of Joachim was to leave the actors guiding the children. It was very interesting and I was lucky working with actors extremely conscious about the light and the camera.
Joachim has precise ideas which are restrictive but interesting. For example, he does not want to go under a particular focal length. For him the 40mm is the widest he would use. So when you need to have long shots, you need to move backwards. But sometimes he agreed to try something else. Once, I made the proposition of using a 28mm for a shot, and he accepted. He likes to choose the right tool he feels for him.

Your relationship with the actors was very rich, could you tell us why ?

JFH : This spiral where this infanticide mother felt, is something that inspired Joachim very much. He is since a long time ago extremely interested in the complexity of human relations. While talking with Niels, he explained me that these three people should never have met because they where invariably hurting each other, as being not compatible with their respective characters. They were all very generous, but also very demanding, a glance, an answer to their propositions, a reaction to a provoked emotion and thanks to them, emotion was always there.
This word “sharing” is very important for me in the process of movie making. We share on the set, then we share with the audience. A film without audience does not exist. A separation, Asgahr Farhadi’s film touched me deeply because it is a movie, that without coaching us , makes us feel more clever. With A perdre la raison I hope the audience will feel this moment when you feel touched and becoming bigger, stronger.
In the movie making, what is the most interesting for me is this magical alchemy between emotions, cleverness and entertainment.
Back to the photography, what were your artistic choices about lighting and colorimetry

JFH : We were shooting on location and it was impossible to set the lights inside. So I reinforced the light direction coming through the windows using Joker 800 with Chimeras or Softubes above the windows. I wanted to have a natural light direction but always soft. I often used a china ball (Gaffair 400 from Airstar at the end of a pole) to be more flexible.
For the night shots I used mostly Red Heads with Chimeras, I like also very much the Zaplight which I am used to since “Tête de Turc”.
I don’t like the “warm look” which could be used to relax the atmosphere in an artificial way. Here, we decided to light in a bright and colored way but never cheating.

We talked about a naturalistic way of lighting, but not neutral, even not always realistic. So we have colors, contrast, character. It is also very progressive : at the beginning, it is starting on a joyful way moving in a unrelenting way to the drama
The photography follows this evolution without exaggerating. The film did not deserve such a treatment, I wanted to stay restrained. I hope I made the right pictures and that it will help the film to be magical.
The beginning of the film is warm, with gold tones. At the end for the scene when Emile Dequenne sits in the car, crying, it was a sunny day, the but the light is not warm ; it is a sun that hurts. With Peter Bernaerts, the color grader, we looked for this palette of colors. The difficulty came, like on the set, not to betray the film’s atmosphere but also not to make it feel darker, heavier. Then we had to “integrate” Joachim at the grading. It is always difficult for a director who watched the pictures coming from the telecine dailies during the 3 months of the editing process with a cinematography completely different from the one decided beforehand. This has a major influence. He needs to clean his memory from these initial impression,… and he managed to do so.

You were operating a lot with the easyrig…

JFH : Yes I Use it a lot , always ; it helps me physically to have the camera on the shoulder and use longer focal lengths. Joachim asked me to be a still photographer, he said : “ You set the camera and watch what is happening” .I think this is exactly what we managed to do : look at the actors and like them.This with the help of Charlotte, my first AC. Focus was a very hard job for her on this film, but she managed it perfectly ? We had a pre -shot list but then we almost forgot it during the shooting.
It was a research work. The Producers allowed us 10 weeks to make it, that gives you the space to search and this we can call :”confort”