Interview with cinematographer Laurent Tangy, AFC, about his work on Gilles Lelouche’s film “Sink or Swim”

par Laurent Tangy

[English] [français]

Laurent Tangy, AFC, began his career working on films such as Lars Blumer’s Mike and Alex CourtesThe Incident. He went on to work with Cédric Jimenez on HHH and Johan Renck on The Last Panthers. He has just completed the cinematography on Gilles Lellouche’s latest film (and the first one he directed by himself), Sink or Swim, whose male cast is emblematic of French cinema. This film was presented Out of Competition at Cannes this year. (BB)

Bernard, Marcus, Simon, Laurent, Thierry and the other guys train in the hallways of their municipal swimming pool under the not-so-strict guidance of Delphine, a former champion swimmer. Together, they feel free and like they have a purpose. They pour all of their energy into a discipline that had previously been the exclusive domain of the female gender : synchronized swimming. So yes, the idea is strange, but the challenge allows them to find meaning in their lives...
With Matthieu Amalric, Guillaume Canet, Benoît Poelvoorde, Marina Foïs, Jean-Hugues Anglade, Philippe Katerine, Félix Moati, Virgine Efira, Leila Bekthi

What artistic decisions were made about lighting on this comedy ?

Laurent Tangy : As soon as we’d begun preparing, Gilles and I decided to divide the film into two separate universes : on one hand, the characters’ “real lives” both personal and professional, which was supposed to be realistic and raw, and their “shared life” which would be an expressive and more colourful universe. The main idea was to compare each character’s feeling of isolation in his or her life with the social bond that they managed to create in their training sessions.

A big part of the film takes place in swimming pools. Did that affect your technical choices ?

LT : Yes, because we shot both underwater and above the water in “real” swimming pools. That meant we were very limited as to the size and weight of the equipment we’d use, and it was impossible to get the spotlights and the grip equipment anywhere near the water. One of the major problems we encountered was how to do camera movements where the camera was underwater and then leaves the water. The piece of equipment we needed to compensate for gravity and for Archimedes’ principle was a Chapman crane, but that would have been too heavy and too large for our sets. So, we had to settle on simpler movements we did using Splash bags and waterproof camera housings. Another worry of ours was how to create underwater lighting that could change colours for a choreographed scene that Gilles wanted to shoot like a show. The safety regulations are very strict when you’re shooting swimmers underwater. In order to pull it off, we worked with the Concept K. company to find approved LEDs. For the scenes out of the water, I often used balloons, which are a tool that is easy to place above the water.

How did you implement your desire for lightness in your approach to filming ?

LT : We wondered whether or not we should shoot with a shoulder camera and in the end, we were less conceptual and used a combination of tools.
The last time I worked with Gilles (the actor), he’d appreciated the way I light from the outside, from the ceiling, and using modular platforms, in order to leave the actors as much space on set as possible.
So, I did the same thing on Sink or Swim.

What tools did you use ?

LT : We shot with an Alexa, in Scope, with a Panavision C-Series, mostly using a 50mm and a 75mm lens.
For the lighting, we used a K5600 Alpha range in HMI, LEDs such as SkyPanels and Freestyles, as well as helium balloons in the pools.

(Interview conducted by Brigitte Barbier, and translated from French by Alexander Baron-Raiffe on behalf of the AFC)

Photo : © Chi-Fou-Mi Productions / Trésor Films
Photo Credit : Mika Cotellon