On the occasion of the nomination of La Prière by Cédric Kahn, at the 68th Berlin International Film Festival, we asked Yves Cape, AFC/SBC a few questions.
Synopsis: In order to treat his drug addiction Thomas, 22 years old, joins an isolated community in the mountains, run by former addicts who cure themselves through prayer. There he will discover friendship, rules, work, love and faith…
Cast: Anthony Bajon, Alex Brendemühl, Damien Chapelle, Louise Grinberg, Hanna Schygulla.
Producers: Les Films du Worso
Release date: 21/03/2018
This is not your first time with Cédric Kahn, is it ?
YC : No, it was actually my second feature film with Cédric. I shot Vie Sauvage in 2014. It is always gratifying when a director calls you again to shoot a second project, it means that he liked your work and the collaboration. Cédric is not an easy person, he is very demanding, both on set and in his human relationships, which makes the “compliment” even greater. By the way, he asked me to be with him for his next project, in which he wants to give me other responsibilities…
What is the movie about, in your opinion ?
YC : It is the initiatory journey and story of a young man looking for his himself. The movie’s subject is inspired by an actual place. In theory, the centre led by the catholic church, is open to all young people having trouble to find themselves. In reality, they are mainly hosting young drug addicts from good catholic families. It is run by catholic educators who help the drug addicts by imposing them a monastic rhythm, based on physical work, banning all kind of distractions (books, television, etc) and having prayer where their physical presence is mandatory, but they are not obliged to pray to God. Cédric stayed at the actual location for ten days when he was writing the script, to get a feel for the place.
What were your intentions for the visuals ?
YC : At the beginning, Cédric wanted to shoot everything in locked off shots, as oner’s and by using natural light.
I love working with “dogma’s” , when we impose them from the very beginning, I think that it forces us to be more creative and better service the story. The idea was of course to adopt a style that suited the subject, so it was meant be something very austere in the staging as well as for the lighting. Doing the least amount of lighting, the idea was to give as much of freedom to the staging as possible in order to find the right shot per scene.
I think, as I was taught by some DOP’s whom I had the chance to work with when I was an AC, that when there is a strong dogma in place, there are not several ways to shoot a scene and therefore, there is often only one point of view. So only one good shot and one good spot to place the camera and tell the story. After a lot of discussions, our “dogma” evolved. To provide the edit with footage, we thought that is was a better idea to shoot what we had imagined for the scene but also one or two additional shots, that could be used on their own, instead of the first shot, or to be edited together with the first one. We kept the ban on movement : no travelling nor handheld, but added some pans to our cinematographic language!
To light the interiors we did the least possible. The main set, the community’s living quarters, was shot in an old holiday center for kids. The center was composed of two buildings with a kitchen, a refectory, sleeping rooms, a bathroom, hallways and a prayer room, which is just a room with an altar and chairs, kind of like a muslim prayer room. The center was completely renovated by the art director, Guillaume Deviercy and his crew, but still keeping the place realistic and not trying to make it look too beautiful!
For these sets, we kept the idea of using natural light, both for day and night. We rarely used sources coming from outside but instead, we canalised and directed the available daylight when necessary. Inside, we recabled everything, replaced the original neon fixtures with correct balanced tubes and we created some systems with wooden boxes, black skirts and grids to control the neons so that they wouldn’t spill everywhere.
How long did you shoot for and where ?
YC : There were two shooting periods because in the story, we follow the boy’s journey over several months. We shot a first part during the winter (February-March) for six weeks and a second part during summertime (June) for two weeks. We shot mainly in the region of Trièves, 50 km South of Grenoble. It is a valley surrounded by 2000 m summits and full of history (it was, among others, a protestant bastion and known for its escape route for Jews during WWII). Beside our interiors, we shot a lot in the neighbouring mountains. We also shot a few days in Southern Spain.
Did you use your usual camera equipment ?
YC : It has been a while now that I use the same setup. I tried to change and test other cameras, but I always come back to the Red Dragon Weapon! In my view, the Alexa, even the new ones, lacks accurate color rendition, mainly in the skintones, which is for me the most important aspect. Its only advantage is that is has a greater dynamic range , which makes it more sensitive. But I think that the color rendition is more important. I would like to do a workshop with other SBC members to compare my impressions with the other DOP’s, because my conclusions are not only based on numerous tests and my participation in color grading, but also linked to my general working method, so it is not necessarily an absolute truth!
As for the lenses, I am pretty faithful to the Leica Summilux. These lenses are neutral, soft but with good resolution, no aberrations, and they allow me to shoot wide open at T 1.4 if needed. They have become an essential element of my camera/lighting/color grading package. The combination allows me to do a lot of things: have a small camera, shoot in low light, back lit in front of a window, in a sense, it allows me to be hyper modular. I like the idea of being able to fulfil any request of the director and being the least possible restricted by the technical stuff.
And lighting wise ? Did you still use regular cinema fixtures ?
YC : Yes, I mainly used LED panels, LiteMat from LiteGear and sometimes Boas from RubyLight. To restrain the costs, I also used Bicolor LED tape from Exalux, which is cheaper than the Boas but still have a good CRI. If modified a bit, they are pretty easy to use. On the occasion we needed bigger fixtures we used Arri Cinepars and ArriMax’s. Other than that, our sources were the neons in the refectory, the bed room’s window, etc.
Did you have a big crew ?
YC : I had an elegant, discrete and good-working crew!
There were two AC’s (Sylvain Zambelli and Mathieu Cassan), one Gaffer (Jean-Noël Viry) and his electrician (Gaël Para), one Key Grip (Thomas Blanc) and one trainee (they relayed Adrien Lallau, Arnaud Guez et Swan Guessoum).
I guess that you didn’t have a lot of grip stuff since you only did fixed and pan shots ?
YC : Yes, it was pretty limited! We did everything on a tripod or a bazooka from KGS. For one of the fight scenes, I had fun doing some fast jib ups to follow the actors standing up because I don’t like random high or low angle shots, I always prefer to be at the eye level, unless to obtain a certain effect of course.
Was it the same crew as on “Vie Sauvage” ?
YC : When it had worked well and the schedules correspond, Cédric doesn’t feel the need make changes in the crew.
So he worked with the same AD’s, but this time we didn’t have a script supervisor. I think that it is because he likes to privilegiate the symbiosis with the Director of Photography and avoid to have two different opinions, which seems to be perturbing for him… We didn’t have the same sound engineer as on Vie Sauvage but he booked Nicolas Cantin, who comes from the same “family”.
Cédric worked with the same art director, Guillaume Deviercy, who did a subtle job in the center, working on the color of the walls for example, but without turning the place into a “cinema set”, which is not easy. For Cédric, the less we alter a set, the better it is.
It was also the first time with Garance Van Rossum, our makeup artist who almost didn’t apply any makeup, only doing certain effects like wounds, tears, sweat, etc or maintaining continuity. Even the cold turkey scene at the beginning of the film was shot without makeup. We tried to make the actor look paler but it was better to leave him natural and to let the acting tell the story.
My principle is always : “we don’t apply makeup unless something looks ugly, then we do something”. The exception is of course when working with “stars”, and mainly the older ones. There is usually no choice and it is often because of the hair and makeup crew around them who pretend to protect them. In reality, they actually protect their job, sometimes at the expense of the movie! It is sad, I would like to convince some of these “stars” to go for the less makeup approach. Aesthetics and how to light a face have changed nowadays and it is good to be confronted to it.
Alice Cambournac, the costume designer, tried to create a desaturated palette to fit the general mood of the movie: austerity. It was also her first time with Cédric.
How did the collaboration with the actors go ?
YC : For the young ones, it was a mix of street casting and young professionals. They were all very endearing and they formed a tight group, both on an off set. Cédric made an interesting casting decision , choosing Anthony Bajon, who looks like an angel to play the role of the drug addict. It was far from type casting and I thought that it was a success, in the end, Anthony is fantastic. Cédric also wanted to be accurate to the mixed nationalities represented in these kind of places. There were people from Eastern Europe, Southern and Northern America and also different European nationalities. I met Damien Chapelle, whose character was Anthony’s guardian angel and who I didn’t know before. We got along pretty well, on and off set! There was also Hanna Schygulla, who I was of course looking forward to meet, as she was a prominent figure in the films I watched while being young, most notably in Fassbinder’s movies.
Do you know what was the budget for the movie ?
YC : We had a bit more than 3 million but since it was pretty long shoot, 8 weeks in total, we all had to be lodged on location and there were two shooting periods, this is what we needed. For some mountains scenes, we rented a helicopter to transport the 15 actors, the crew and the equipment up in the mountains. We also shot in Spain. It costs money! Other than that, we shot on one single location and its surroundings, the actors weren’t really famous, the crew was small and we had few equipment.
How did the postproduction go ?
YC : The color grading was pretty quick. We did it at M141 over an 8 day period with Richard Deusy, my usual color grader. I always apply LUTS to my rushes via the metadata in the camera while shooting. And my second AC, Mathieu Cassan, who is also a DIT, had already pre graded the rushes when needed, so it was pretty fast. I think that even if we toned down some of the exaggerated options, we stayed true to our first intentions.
What do you think of the final result and the selection of the movie in Berlin ?
YC : We all know that a selection in such festivals like Cannes or Berlin is a lottery, but it is a nice surprise and a good reward for the crew who engaged aside Cédric. It has been years now that I choose to work on art house films that take risks and I feel a certain tiredness being faced with the discrepancy between winning awards and the lack of public interest. I am probably a record holder in that category!. I would love it if the public took some time to go and watch these gems that we fight for everyday of the year!
Camera: Red Dragon Weapon, Leica Summilux, Panavision France
Light: Panavision France and Lites Belgium for the LED
Grip: Panavision France
Lab: M141 Paris
First AC: Sylvain Zambelli
Gaffer: Jean-Noël Viry
Key Grip: Thomas Blanc
Color Grader: Richard Deusy
Rush: Evy Roselet et Mathieu Cassan
Translation by Gaston Struye and Anton Mertens