Cinematographer Romain Winding, AFC, speaks about his work on "Les Adieux à la Reine", a film by Benoît Jacquot

par Romain Winding La Lettre AFC n°218

Les Adieux à la reine (after the eponymous novel by Chantal Thomas) tells the story of Sidonie (Léa Seydoux), who was Marie Antoinette’s (Diane Kruger) reader, who was fascinated by the Queen. The story unfolds at Versailles during the regime’s last days of July 14-16 1789.
This is the eighth film I’ve shot with Benoît Jacquot. We are used to and trust one another, which allows us to become even more creative every time we work together.

This is why, one month before shooting, I already knew the exact angles and movements of the camera. You can imagine how much of a luxury knowing that in advance is to allow for planning light quality.
The choice of the camera : Benoît was very tempted by digital, and since I had just shot Le Cochon de Gaza with an Alexa, he trusted me and we didn’t argue over whether a period film necessarily meant 35mm silver-process film.

I did a few comparative tests in 1.85:1 and 2.35:1 to test the camera on the big screen and I didn’t see any major differences due to the enlargement. The sharpness of the Master Primes lenses made my decision easy.
On the other hand, carrying the Alexa on your shoulder with the Master Primes is a bit like carrying a weight on the lens hood…

Benoît wanted a lot of zoom shots. The Angénieux 24-290mm complemented the precision of the Master Primes surprisingly well.
I was a little afraid of all of those zoom shots (I though it might be reminiscent of Italian cinema of the 1970s) : Luc Barnier, the cutter, did an amazing job assembling them and in the end, I was really pleased with the dynamic they brought to the film.

There’s a long sequence in the Queen’s “Gilded Cabinet”.
Katia Wyszkop, the production designer, went all out with the gold, which I really liked.
For nighttime shots, Benoît only wanted the décor to be illuminated by the flames in the fireplace. Of course, the owner of the château where filming took place didn’t want fires lit in his fireplace. So, it was impossible to light the actresses with real fire from the hearth. Thierry Debove, the gaffer, and Max Massard, his assistant, installed 3 1000W Bugs in the fireplace with Chimeras that were linked to a Hub console, and each one had a different program of high and low lights. This arrangement allowed for a subtle dance of light on the actresses’ faces and fugitive apparitions of reflections in the gold of the décor.

In another scene, Sidonie goes into the Duchesse de Polignac’s (Virgine Ledoyen) bedroom with the only light being the candle she carries in her hand. The camera follows her while she approaches the bed and uses the candle to shed light on Polignac’s sleeping body. In order to keep with the reality of that era, Tristan Girault, the props manager, had proposed a candelabra with only one candle, but of course, I asked him for a five-stick candelabra because I needed power and I didn’t want to add any electric lights. It had to be Sidonie who really lit up Polignac’s body. After cordial, but firm, negotiations, we settled on a three-stick candelabra.

We doubtlessly could have done the shot with a candle, but at T 1.3 of aperture (at 1200 ISO), the definition would have been a catastrophe. With the three candles, the aperture was around T 2.3. I don’t mean the point display (with Malik Brahimi you can try any shot you like, it always turns out perfectly) but rather the lack of definition caused by underexposure and warm light.
Benoît didn’t want us to use a big screen, and I don’t like them either, so Benoît had a little portable screen that ran on batteries and Malik, the pointer, had one to follow the point.

I built the light using a BTLH 910 screen that was posed on top of the camera and hid underneath a black hood. And, when I looked at the scene for real, I was bothered that it was so dark, so I quickly went back to my screen to reassure myself.
The 80-meter long corridor where the people of Versailles wandered about during the night was only lit by the candles carried by the extras. The lights that came through the doors were from projectors plugged in on the same Hub console with a slight flame effect to make the image more dramatic.
The end of the corridor was left in shadow in order so that the characters would seem to disappear into the darkness, something slightly theatrical, and perhaps an unconscious reference to Tosca, a film for which we used the same procedure.