Bruno ExcelLens — Watching Bruno Delbonnel, ASC, AFC Accept his Angénieux Award

This post is an account of my friend Bruno Delbonnel receiving the ExcelLens Award, a tribute organized by French lens manufacturer Angénieux during the Cannes Film Festival. I include photos of the event, and a video of Bruno's speech.

Bruno's filmography features a unique mixture of "atmospheres" (a word he prefers to "look") and a variety of genres, resulting from his devoted collaborations with very original, very talented directors, including Tim Burton, the Coen brothers, Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Alexander Sokurov and Joe Wright. To me, the two masterpieces to date are Faust and Inside Llewyn Davis.

Bruno's powerful cinematography has earned an ASC Award, three ASC nominations and five Oscar nominations. His lengthy collaboration with colorist Peter Doyle has enabled them to pioneer innovative tools that complement the lighting in DI, and push cinematography towards painterly expression.

The ExcelLens festivities in Cannes involved a fun lunch with Bruno and director Jean-Pierre Jeunet, an elegant rooftop reception, the ceremony in the Festival's Buñuel theater, and a black tie dinner in a beach pavillion of a luxury hotel.

2019 marked the seventh ExcelLens event; the previous recipients are a very distinguished group:  Philippe Rousselot, ASC, AFC, the late Vilmos Zsigmond, ASC, HSC, Peter Suschitzky, ASC, BSC, Roger Deakins, ASC, BSC, Christopher Doyle, HKSC, and Ed Lachman, ASC. 

Each ExcelLens cinematographer has received an Angénieux zoom lens. This gifting of a valuable lens to a cinematographer is unique to the industry. What better way to honor a filmmaker than to give them a tool for their future projects?

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Bruno Delbonnel between cinematographers Modhura Palit and Cecile Zhang — present and past recipients of Angénieux' Special Encouragement Award. (Photo by Benjamin B)

LUNCH - Upcoming DPs, Jeunet, Artist?

On the day of the ceremony, I am kindly invited to a fun rooftop lunch with our friends from Angénieux,  director Jean-Pierre Jeunet and two upcoming Asian women cinematographers. Each woman has received the Angénieux Special Encouragement Award that is given in parallel with the ExcelLens prize: Cécile Zhang from China was honored last year, and Modhura Palit from India is this year's awardee. Cécile and Modhura have many cinematography questions for Bruno...

Director Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Delbonnel in Cannes. (Photo by Benjamin B)

Jean-Pierre Jeunet recalls that, some 40 years ago, he began his career working as an AD, carrying equipment cases on the first (and only) short film that Bruno Delbonnel directed. The cinematographer was none other than Henri Alekan, whose magnificent career spanned from Beauty and the Beast to Wings of Desire.

I ask Bruno whether it is possible to see his first film, he replies that he told the lab to throw out the negative years ago. Unhappy with the result, Bruno concluded that he was better suited to shoot than to direct. 

Jeunet recounts that when he directed his first feature in 1990 — the wonderful Delicatessen — Bruno was an operator, but not yet a DP, "and we couldn't afford an operator!" Jeunet turned to cinematographer Darius Khondji, ASC, AFC to operate and light Delicatessen, and his subsequent films City of Lost Children and Alien Resurrection.

Ten years later, when Jeunet was preparing Amélie, Bruno had shot several features. Jeunet remembers: "Bruno told me that if I didn't take him as the cinematographer, he would kill me!" The director jokes that he took him on "because I was afraid of dying!" The two went on to collaborate on the magnificent A Very Long Engagement. Jeunet adds: "I'm very proud to have worked with Bruno."

Delbonnel in Cannes (Photo by Benjamin B)

A theme that returns throughout the day in Cannes is whether or not a cinematographer is an artist. Bruno disavows the A word: "80% of the light on Amélie is Jean-Pierre's. It's his look, it's what he wanted. It's not me trying to impose anything, it's all about the discussion we had together. And it's the same with Tim Burton, with Sokurov, with Joe Wright and with the Coen brothers... What I've done with them is from them, it's not only me. And I'm not an artist, they are the artists."
As you shall see, many of us beg to differ...

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Black Tie

That evening I attend the Angénieux reception in the elegant Mouton Cadet Wine Bar on the rooftop of the Festival Palais overlooking the Cannes harbor. My lunch mates are now attired in black tie and fancy dresses.

Pictured above are Angénieux President Emmanuel Sprauel with Cécile Zhang; my fellow journalist Jon Fauer, ASC; filmmaker Nina Badoux; Modhura Palit with Indian director Rajiv Menon. (Photos Benjamin B)

Throughout the evening I am pleased to see many other friends — in the third photograph above: Richard Andry, AFC; DP Cecile Zhang; ASC president Kees van Oostrum; Bruno Delbonnel, ASC, AFC; DP Modhura Palit, Angénieux product president Emmanuel Sprauel, Jean-Marie Dreujou, AFC; Angénieux’s Jean-Yves Le Poulain.
Bottom photo: ASC and Angénieux presidents confer.
(Photos Benjamin B)

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Video of Bruno’s Speech

The ExcelLens ceremony takes place in the Buñuel Theater with an audience of cinema professionals. The evening is introduced by the genial Thierry Frémaux, Cannes General Delegate (and chief curator), followed by brief speeches by Angénieux Managing Director Severine Serrano and President Emmanuel Sprauel. Bruno comes on stage and Emmanuel prepares to give him the 15-40mm Angénieux Optimo zoom.

Angénieux Managing Director Severine Serrano. (Photo by Benjamin B)
Bruno Delbonnel's inscribed ExcelLens 15-40mm T2.6 Optimo zoom. (Photo by Benjamin B)

I shoot Bruno's speech with my humble Panasonic FZ-150 camera. In my simple edit below, Bruno starts by joking with Emmanuel and Mohdura after receiving his zoom, and then gives an acceptance speech filled with the spirit of teamwork.

watch on YouTube

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Tributes to Bruno

The importance of Bruno Delbonnel's work is underlined by numerous tributes from filmmakers during the evening: Jean-Pierre Jeunet, his screenwriter Guillaume Laurant and Christoph Waltz are on stage, along with cinematographers, directors and actors appearing in video tributes. Some quotes:

CHRISTOPH WALTZ, actor: The order you create on a set is special. Why is it special? It's the cat that vanishes... and the smile remains. Your smile remains when the lights go up in the cinema and we talk about your images.Thank you Bruno.

CHRISTOPHER DOYLE, HKSC: You're an "Ingénue", you're not an "Angénieux". Ingénue means that you look with innocent eyes, like a great cinematographer must. As with the closeness, the integrity and that wonderful space that we feel through Amélie, of her wonder of the world and her simplicity -- that's what we have to be as cinematographers... We even forget that you're a great cinematographer because we're so engaged with what you're doing, and that's called "Excellence"... That's what we must all aspire to. Ingénue... Angénieux...

TIM BURTON, director: Hey Bruno, I love working with you. You're such a great artist. I love you, congratulations.

JULIANNE MOORE, actor: Your body of work is magnificent and your artistry tremendous. Congratulations.

ED LACHMAN, ASC: Congratulations on your award. You're as beautiful and sensitive as your images. 

GARY OLDMAN, actor: I am with you in spirit... You are a true artist and a really wonderful man... I send you loads of love and a big kiss. 

JOE WRIGHT, director: I hired Bruno. Little did I know that he would change how I thought about cinema, he would teach me so much. Bruno thank you for everything you have taught me. Thank you for your friendship. Thank you for being the great artist that you are. 

ALEXANDER SOKUROV, director: I've learned a lot from Bruno, and he has still a lot of things to teach me. Bruno, my dear friend, my dear master, I congratulate you with all my heart. And may this recognition confirm that there are many in Europe, and outside Europe, believe in cinema as an art form. 

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Hey Bruno, maybe you are an artist after all?  ;)

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LINKS

wikipedia: Bruno Delbonnel

wikipedia: Pierre Angénieux ExcelLens in Cinematography

theasc.com: Inside Llewyn Davis article by Benjamin B

theasc.com: A Very Long Engagement article by Benjamin B

wikipedia: Jean-Pierre Jeunet

thefilmbook: 

Colorist Peter Doyle -- HDR, Vintage Workflows, Etiquette

Colorist Peter Doyle -- Back to Black, HDR Workflow

filmcomment.com: Interview: Bruno Delbonnel by Yonca Talu

blog.angenieux.com: 

7th Edition of Angénieux ExcelLens

Back on Angenieux Excellens 2019 Ceremony

Modhura Palit to Receive 2nd Angenieux Special Encouragement Award

angenieux.com: Optimo 15-40

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My thanks to Edith Bertrand, Isabelle Buron, Astrid Gavard and Bruno Delbonnel

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All photos above by Benjamin B
Feel free to share the photos on internet with following credit:
photo by Benjamin B - thefilmbook
All other rights reserved

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