Let my People Go !

Let my People Go !

Paru le La Lettre AFC n°215 Autres formats

[English] [français]

Mikael’s film was a tipping point for me. Before, I think I was trying to achieve a certain sort of charm and natural beauty in my photography. But, in this film, Mikael Buch pushed my limits and I was able to achieve a form of liveliness within the artifice.
Liveliness is the keyword of this film, a word that is closely related to the words alive, rich, shimmering, and changing ; somewhere between laughter and tears, just like the film itself.
Mikael Buch and Céline Bozon, on both sides of the camera
Mikael Buch and Céline Bozon, on both sides of the camera
Photo Carole Bethuel

When the adjective “lively” is applied to images, one immediately thinks of colours. There are two parts of the film, a sort of prologue that takes place in Finland where a tragic event pushes Ruben, the protagonist, to return home to his Jewish family in France, which is the second part of the film. In order to film Finland, which was the “exotic fantasy of the film”, the image had to be very colourful but on the cool side, very bright (see the photos of our overexposure trials), and had to have great depth of field and very diffuse
We used two-perforation 35mm film with digital calibration. I had noticed on other types of film that digital calibration gave uneven results as to colour and contrast, and we always felt that we had gone too far as soon as we added a bit of contrast or colour because the image that came out of the scanner was so flat and grey. That’s why, after filming our first tests on location in Finland, I thought we needed colour references that were a bit mad, extreme, and especially surreal : that is what brought me to Ektachrome, Kodak’s colour reversible film. On the other hand, the contrast on faces was too extreme to be able to film directly in Ektachrome, so during filming we kept a magazine ready with Ektachrome inside, and for every scene we exposed an Ektachrome reference that let me calibrate once shooting was over.
We only filmed one master shot in Ektachrome : the Finnish mother’s dream with the white wolf in the snow. What I find unbelievable in today’s almost-completely digital age is the texture of that film. Although using the words texture, rendering, and grain to talk about film seems completely archaic, there is no other way to talk about the material and structure of the film itself. It’s difficult to find the right word that contains all of those words, but it’s always difficult to find the exact word to describe a sensation.

On the set in Finland
On the set in Finland
Photo David Koskas

On the part that was filmed in Paris with the suffocating family, there was a continuity in the great amount of diffuse light, but the colours had to be very warm.
I had already used a chocolate filter for Serge Bozon’s Mods, and an 812 on Tony Gatlif’s Transylvania. This time, I wanted something stronger and yellow-red-gold rather than the 812’s magenta colour or the yellow-green of the chocolate filter. It’s thanks to Danys Bruyère that we discovered the “Maui Brown” filter. It’s a filter that’s as thick as two apertures and so requires more lighting.
But I like the way it colours skin tone and the décor. It’s hard to film outside during a cloudy day with this filter because it requires high natural contrast in order to prevent the image from becoming washed out and monochrome. During digital calibration, it was really interesting to pull the Maui towards red or magenta, or to cool the colours around the characters while keeping their skin really warm.

I worked with Raphaëlle Dufosset at Éclair, she took care of the tests, the dailies, and the final version, which to me is the best way of working and should be applied to all films, especially when they are shot digitally.
On the other hand, since we went really far out with the colours, I must admit that the film copy was a little disappointing, a lot less rich in colours, and so the film seems much more limited in 35mm than in DCP.
Lively also means luminous, even though going towards the light isn’t very natural for me. Bright lights have always intimidated me much more than shadows, and on this film, I had to go looking for contrast and brilliance.

What was special about working with Mikael is that our cinematic tastes were highly compatible, and so we both had a very strong desire to make art together. He brings out the best in those who work with him, and he doesn’t put up with frivolity. Early on, we spoke about Wes Anderson, who I find to be an important filmmaker, and the state of mind of Let my People Go was close to that, a mix of extreme fantasy—perhaps parody or comedy—and very intense and moving things.

The film was shot on two-perforation film with an Arricam lite and a 17-80mm Angénieux. In Finland : the outside shots were shot in 5201 with Mitchell C and 5219 for night-time shots. In Paris : in 5207 with Classic Soft 1 and 2 and Maui 1 and 5219 at night-time. The mother’s dream in Finland where she is surrounded by wolves was filmed using Ektachrome Mitchell C.

A big “thank you” to my marvellous team, Catherine Georges, my first assistant who enabled me to get through the filter-combination tests, and my master electrician, Olivier Godaert, and my key grip, Gaston Grandin.
Working with decorator Gwendal Bescond was really rich and intense, and I could really rely on his work to build the image on colour scales, density, brilliance, etc.
And lots of thanks go to the production team, especially Géraldine Michelot for her trust, which is a remarkable and precious thing nowadays.

(Translated from French by Alex Aiffe)