Pierre Lhomme, a mutual understanding

By James Ivory

La Lettre AFC n°300

[English] [français]

In 1980 when I went to France to shoot my first feature there, Quartet, I did not bring along my English cameraman, Walter Lassally. He and I had made five films together, but perhaps he had another job. Humbert Balsan, one of the producers of Quartet, recommended Pierre Lhomme.

Humbert and I drove up to Normandy to see him, where he was making a film with Jane Birkin. I liked him personally at once. He was a witty man and an elegant man – his mode of dress never changed in all the years we worked together : well-worn Levi’s, with his aviator glasses often pushed up above his mobile face. When we began working, Pierre became the spiritual center of this filmmaking process – not the director, myself, nor the actors, who included Isabelle Adjani, Maggie Smith, and Alan Bates. Pierre was our calm center. And of course, as with all the greatest cameramen, was the most hardworking man on the set, with the greatest responsibility.

James Ivory en 2002
Photo Pierre Lhomme

When Pierre agreed to shoot Quartet, I had never seen a single frame of any film of his, including those of his heady Nouvelle Vague days. When we began to screen our dailies, I was not disappointed. He was a cameraman who knew best how to light beautiful women. There are some, very well known, highly respected, always busy, who don’t know how to do that, or care. I’ve always liked a look we try for in my films that, through the lighting, merges all the visual elements into a kind of abstraction of reality. Quartet, set on nineteen-twenties Paris, is a very good example of that, as is Maurice.

I took Pierre to England with us when we went there to make Maurice. I deliberately chose not to have an English cameraman. I thought, given the subject matter of that film, it would be better to have a worldly Frenchman at my side. I never regretted that decision, though the presence of this highly skilled Frenchman amongst the touchy English camera crew led to some strain – not Pierre’s, but theirs. Let it be said they didn’t like taking orders from an exacting Frenchman.

James Ivory et Pierre Lhomme pendant le tournage du "Divorce"

Later on, he would go with us to Kerala in South India to shoot a film of my partner, Ismail Merchant, called Cotton Mary. I think I have never seen him angry anywhere, and the degree of mutual understanding on a set of Pierre’s was rarely duplicated on films I made afterwards without him in other countries, with the exception of England where Tony Pierce-Roberts became my new British cameraman after A Room with a View. Pierre shot two further films for Merchant Ivory in France – the ravishingly photographed Jefferson in Paris (1994) and a romantic comedy, Le Divorce (2002).

James Ivory
New York, July 22, 2019