Awards Season, Through the Eyes of Bruno Delbonnel

The ASC will be well represented at the Oscars this year, with four of the five nominees in the cinematography category sporting the hallowed initials — Bruno Delbonnel, ASC, AFC; Roger Deakins, ASC, BSC; Emmanuel Lubezki, ASC, AMC and Phedon Papamichael, ASC. (The fifth nominee is Philippe Le Sourd.)

Bruno at Camerimage with his Bronze Frog. Photo by Benjamin B for thefilmbook.
Bruno at Camerimage with his Bronze Frog. Photo by Benjamin B for thefilmbook.

The nomination for Bruno is his fourth — the others were for Amelie in 2002, A Very Long Engagement in 2005, and Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince in 2010. A Very Long Engagement also took home the ASC Outstanding Achievement Award.

Bruno has been on the awards circuit, where he’s been widely recognized, beginning with the Bronze Frog at Camerimage in Poland. The American Film Institute named Inside Llewyn Davis the best film of the year, and both the New York Film Critics Circle and the National Society of Film Critics awarded Bruno their prize for best cinematography.

Bruno was on hand in New York for the New York Film Critics Circle event, where the film’s star, Oscar Isaac, was presented.

There’s one accolade the film didn’t receive, however. “I don’t understand how the Screen Writer’s Guild didn’t give a nomination to Inside Llewyn Davis,” says Bruno. “Don’t misunderstand me — I don’t mean that the other nominees were not good. But it’s such a beautiful script — one of the most beautiful scripts I’ve ever read. It’s a complicated movie, and I wonder if a lot of people don’t see it that way. They see it as merely a recreation of the folk music scene, and it’s deeper than that.”

Bruno says that in the first scene, in which Llewyn Davis sings a heartbreaking and beautifully shot version of “Hang Me, Oh Hang Me,” the words of the song carry layers of meaning for the character, who is not an especially nice person, we learn.

“And with the last song, ‘Fare Thee Well, My Honey,’ he is saying goodbye to everything in his life,” says Bruno. “He’s almost shouting it. So this story is more about the character and his life. That’s my reading and my understanding of the script, and that is what is so strong about the movie.”

Bruno says that at the start of the assignment, things got off on the wrong foot with the Coens. “They had seen Skyfall, and thought it was absolutely brilliant,” Bruno says. “I suggested that we try Super 16 for Inside Llewyn Davis, and they laughed a lot. But in New York, I did a test comparing Super 16 and 35mm 4-perf. When I saw the footage at Technicolor, I saw that I had made a big mistake. The grain was huge. They were in the screening, and they said, ‘Yes, you screwed up.’ One the first day I had already messed up. I had to redo the test.

“It was astounding, because we are not used to seeing that type of grain anymore,” Bruno says. “It means that our brains have changed, perhaps because of HD television. I have a big plasma screen at home, and I’m used to very sharp, very contrasty images. We forgot how grainy Super 16 is, and we were shocked. That’s why we decided to stay with 35mm 4-perf film.”

On the set, Bruno was impressed with the Coens’ efficiency. “We had very little camera movement,” he says. “That’s where they are real masters. I was impressed when I shot it. I thought the shots were good shots. But when I saw the movie put together, I realized their brilliance, because it seemed like a totally different movie than the one I shot. It’s all in the editing, the way they put the shots together. I don’t know how it can be so unbelievably simple.”

I asked Bruno what he learned on the shoot. “I learned that I’m not Roger Deakins,” he quips. “And then I learned simplicity. It’s almost annoying, really, to see how efficient they are and how simply they can block a scene and make it work, even the most complicated ones. They also know how to use their money, and that is impressive, too.”

On the topic of film’s longevity, Bruno says, “Guillermo Navarro [ASC] has been pushing for film to be designated a World Heritage by UNESCO. I support this idea, and I hope it will allow artists to have the choice between digital and film in the future, and to preserve digital films on negative.”

Writing this week in The New Yorker magazine, Richard Brody quoted Guillermo as saying, “We must fight to keep the experience of watching a film that was made on film projected as film alive and available in at least one cinema in every city in every country. We must act quickly to safeguard the future of the film print by supporting cinemas that choose to continue projecting 35mm film prints alongside digital projection.”

Read the entire piece: “Don’t Worry About The End of Film” link.



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