Cannes Film Festival 2022

Yves Cape, AFC, discusses "Plus Que Jamais" ("More Than Ever"), by Emily Atef

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Describing a young couple facing an existential choice, Plus que jamais (More Than Ever) is also a journey towards accepting another’s choice, starring Vicky Krieps and Gaspard Ulliel . Yves Cape, AFC, was the DoP for this film shot in France, Luxembourg and Norway. He shares what it was like to make this film, at once hard and bright. (FR)

Hélène and Mathieu have been happy together for many years. The bond that unites them is deep. Facing an existential choice, Hélène travels alone to Norway to seek peace and test the strength of their love.

Last year, you were also on the bill at Cannes with De son vivant, the film by Emmanuelle Bercot about a man suffering from incurable cancer. The subject of Emily Atef’s new film is strangely close to it...

Yves Cape: To tell the truth, it’s even the third film in a row that I’ve made where the main character is confronted with his imminent death! In between these two films, I shot Sundown, by Michel Franco, in competition at Venice in 2021, which deals with a similar subject! 
But nothing that exists in one film exists in the others, they each take a different approach to the same subject. At most, each film contains a scene in a medical office! 
As for the rest, be it the situations, the sets or the narration, nothing is alike. That being said, the theme of acceptance is at the center of each of these three films. It’s very interesting and obviously it appealed to me!

What about the director’s style?

YC: Each film has a very different approaches.
Emily and I were given the opportunity to discuss the screenplay during our long scouting mission for the main location, in addition to numerous e-mail and telephone conversations. Six weeks before shooting began, we spent ten days in private discussions at my home. The producers hoped that we would provide a shooting script! Fortunately, in agreement with Emily, we decided to take a more intuitive approach as the filming progressed. These ten days were mainly used to clarify what was at stake in each scene and for me to fully familiarize myself with Emily’s vision of her film. So, Emily and I began work without a preestablished shooting script. The work mainly revolves around the direction the actors take, leaving me a lot of freedom on camera to find what is right for each scene. An instinctive approach, which, I admit, suits me well. This way of working was made possible, mainly, by these ten days together which were fundamental in the whole preparation process.

Faces and close-ups predominate from the start of the film… 

YC: Coming from photography and portraiture, faces are at the center of my concerns in each of the films I make. Faces, that’s what I like, they’re what move us. And, in this story, there was, as a central plot element, the exile of the character of Hélène to Norway. Starting the story with a focus on faces also allowed us to then open the film up to Norwegian landscapes, visually directing the story towards something different.

The film opens with a dinner with friends, where the viewer gradually discovers the main characters’ situation…

YC: This opening sequence is built on a feeling of unease. Everyone, for different reasons, feels uncomfortable. It wasn’t easy to film. This kind of situation often involves small details that get out of hand, a look, a hesitation, two hands in a handshake… The idea was also not to reveal anything at the start, and to enter very simply into these various conversations. In the kitchen, Hélène’s arrival causes a change in subject, and suddenly the faces change, and their discomfort is what had to be captured. This results in the "coming out" scene, in the middle of dinner.
It’s essentially setting up the venue, to put the performers in the most realistic and comfortable situation possible. We create a device, hoping that the actors will be able to translate the scene. And once it looks good, we shoot, as simply as possible, following the actors.

Was the location important to you?

YC: We needed a space that would reflect the characters’ socioeconomic background. It was very important that it be realistic. But, this also created problems: if we respect the idea of ​​a realistically-sized apartment, i.e. rather small, having a dozen actors around a table, doesn’t leave much room to move around to shoot each face! And we also wanted to do wide shots! All these desires led me to a simple lighting configuration, with a "lampshade" effect above the table, materialized by a small, very light Helium balloon suspended by strings because we couldn’t hang anything on the wall. And, in terms of camera work, it was a mix of handheld shots and shots taken from the dolly or the Creeper Butt Dolly (wheeled chair), and static shots on a tripod. In this way, I had total freedom to adapt to whatever we felt like doing in the moment.
In fact, all these constraints ended up providing the style for this scene. I enjoy dealing with technical adversity!

This is a film that follows a spatial and psychological journey. Were you able to respect the chronology of this journey?

YC: Unfortunately not! When we started filming in Bordeaux, in April 2021, we didn’t know if we would be able go to Norway, which had closed its borders! We therefore decided to start shooting in studio in Luxembourg, after Bordeaux, hoping that the situation would change, which it did a week before our planned departure. It was a risky bet, but one that had to be taken, otherwise the film would probably have been cancelled. Xénia Maingot, our producer, carried it off, and I am proud of her for that.
The film was therefore shot in three chunks. It started in Bordeaux, then continued in studio in Luxembourg, mainly to shoot the Norwegian interiors, and lastly we went to Norway to shoot the exteriors. 
Therefore, it was necessary to film the studio scenes before even being able to shoot the exterior bridging shots. It was kind of a bet as to the weather we’d have there! Not easy, especially since the views from the interior windows were printed on fixed Rosco backgrops, from photos taken during location scouting six months earlier! This, too, was taking a big bet on the weather!
On this home set, the backdrop covered approximately 190° of the interior home decor and measured 40 meters long by 7 meters high. It isn’t easy to bring a natural feeling to something like this, especially when these scenes are going to be directly bridged with the real exteriors that will be filmed in the future, where nature suddenly explodes on the screen. So, I worked on the studio interiors as much as possible, as I usually work on location, by trying to reintroduce as many foibles as possible both in terms of lighting and setting. 
After this shoot in Luxembourg, we got on a plane for Norway, where we had to quarantine after entering the country. This constraint also served the film! These fifteen days in a vacuum really unified the team for the part of the film that placed the greatest demands on our two stars.

Before Hélène leaves, there are a few rare shots that have a more poetic feel, where she seems to be floating in the water. These very sensual shots contrast with the rest of the narrative…

YC: Emily had originally imagined several dreamlike sequences with special effects that were supposed to represent transitions in Hélène’s mindset as she traveled to Norway. I am referring in particular to a scene inside a car stuck in traffic, where, suddenly, she sees seagulls arriving, and the road fills with water. These are sort of premonitions...
We realized, after we’d shot them, that these incursions of fantasy, in a film very largely rooted in reality, were too much. All that remains in the final cut are these fairly simple shots with Vicky’s body, partially underwater, shot in the swimming pool of our hotel in Luxembourg with a simple diving chamber for the camera.

The lighting atmosphere of Norwegian interiors is quite particular, between night and day...

YC: One of the important elements described in the screenplay is the absence of night when Hélène arrives in Norway (the story takes place at the end of the spring). This gives her insomnia. It isn’t easy to portray those days where the sun hardly sets on screen in terms of differentiation between day and night! The solution most often chosen in Nordic films is a curtain with strong light behind it, or a clock on screen. In fact, we find ourselves facing a large, very bright blue sky in the middle of the night, as if we were in the dark!
For the interior night scenes in the house, I deliberately opted for a very darkened, but visible window, and a bright interior. This interpretations plays on the usual codes of the night, with a stronger contrast.

Let’s talk about the part shot in Norway. Can you say a few words about the choice of location for the house by the fjord? It’s a central element of the second part of the film…

YC: I quickly realized during location scouting that fjords are often quite narrow and winding. When you find a house in the heart of such a place, even if it’s magnificent, you have little perspective, and, inevitably, the view towards the other shore is almost like filming faced with a black mountain!
I insisted to Emily and Xénia that we had to find a house at the top of a fjord, with its boathouse below, and that the particular fjord had to give us perspective both to the left and the right. Location scouting took a very long time, and as often happens, I stumbled across this house by chance while out for a walk with Emily and Silke Fisher, the production designer. 
It was very important, because the spectacular setting is what gives Hélène her strength.
One scene does a good job of translating why we chose to set the film in this location: the long discussion between Gaspard and Vicky, in the morning, at the edge of the water. A scene that we deliberately placed just in front of the boathouse where she decided to stay, with the very open perspective behind, that I’ve already mentioned, with them. Two days had been set aside for this very important scene. We started one morning with a little fog, knowing that we were going to film in strict chronological order and include the changes of weather. In technical terms, the setup was very light. We mainly used natural lighting and respected the rhythm and acting.

Was the choice of lenses for this scene important to you?

YC: I feel there is really very little real difference between modern lenses. After seeing the blind tests carried out by Denis Lenoir and Caroline Champetier for the AFC… Certainly, some retro lenses stand out, but we can see that it is almost impossible to distinguish between the modern series. It’s sad, and these tests disturbed me, strangely, as if I’d suddenly noticed that something had been lost...
 Therefore, I make my choice of lens based on their purely practical characteristics: their minimum focus, weight, size, and of course brightness and contrast. I have now shot nearly ten films with the same lenses, the Leitz Summilux, which suit me perfectly.
They make a great and very flexible duo with the RED Monstro, which I’ve also been using for a long time. This is opting for naturalness, which is the most beautiful transformation possible of the real. 
The only problem with these lenses is that they don’t cover the full frame, but I must admit that I haven’t really explored that possibility in a film yet. On the RED Monstro camera, I shoot between 4K and 6K depending on the shots and sequences. I’m not a pixel freak, on the contrary I like to dirty up the image in the most natural way possible.

A favorite focal length on this film?

YC: Yes, I really like working with 40mm. I feel it’s the rough equivalent of Cartier Bresson’s famous 50mm. It’s a lens that transcribes the reality of my vision, without effects, without unnecessary modification. A lens that seems to me to reflect human relationships, which automatically places me at the right distance. For example, in a conversation scene, with this focal length you immediately enter into the gaze of one or the other. Of course, that doesn’t prevent me from sometimes switching to shorter focal lengths for certain wide shots, but as soon as the human being is at the center of the shot, I’m almost always at 40mm.

Interview by François Reumont, for the AFC, translated from French by A. Baron-Raiffe